Friday, September 1, 2006

August Archives #2

August 31st Log

2005, Doug Atchison, United States
1st Viewing, DVD

After the success of the charming (and even thrilling) 2002 documentary Spellbound, Hollywood follows up with this fiction film about a middle school girl from South Central LA who’s gift with spelling inspires her to enter the National Spelling Bee. Akeelah is played by Keke Palmer in a standout performance. She is joined by the always capable Angela Bassett (as her mother) and Laurence Fishburne (as her coach, reminding us of Searching For Bobby Fischer). Really, there is a whole lot of cliches (including music montages, an overdone “enemy“, and inconsistent characters). The script by writer-director Doug Atchison is heavily flawed in that it is rushed, obvious, and contrived. However, the story of the film is uplifting and sentimental in a way that recalls Frank Capra. The script of the message and morals is so overwhelmingly positive that you must applaud the films family intentions (capped off nicely in the final word Akeelah spells). The strength of the film lies in this positive spirit, as well as the freedom to let it’s young actresses shine. She captures the authenticity of adolescence without ever being manipulative or artificially “cute”. She plays a kid with real sensitivities. Akeelah and the Bee is a flawed but enjoyable and positive family film.

August 30th Log

2005, Fernando Eimbcke, Mexico
1st Viewing, DVD

What an appealing film this is! The black and white photography, composition, repetitive fades to black, and overall tone of isolated boredom is undoubtedly evident of Jim Jarmusch (even as early as the opening frames as the film establishes mood and setting through fade outs- recalling Stranger Than Paradise). Pretty much the entire film takes place within a small apartment occupied by two friends (who are left home on Sunday) as well as a neighbor who needs to use their stove, and a pizza delivery man. Like Jarmusch, the film is without plot and the result is a film that is equally charming and cool in the most straight-forward style. Comparisons aside however, as this is a clever and original film of its own. Underneath the surfaces of this little gem of a film is one that speaks of a rebellious youth generation on the verge of adulthood. Also, if you watch this film, be sure to stick around for the end credits as there is a funny little addition afterwards. The young cast is outstanding and really make these characters likable. Duck Season is a film of adolescence and as it concludes becomes a subtly poetic film of nostalgia and memories. This is an irresistibly charming film with universal appeal and among the most truly watchable films of year the year.

1957, Robert Parrish, United States

1st Viewing, DVD

The interest for me here was the cast and that is probably the most recommend part of the film. I love Rita Hayworth and she is again stunning in a Gilda-esque bad/good girl role, though here she is given far less depth to work with. Also like Gilda she has two men falling for her: and it happens to be two of the best American actors Robert Mitchum and Jack Lemmon. The film was made in 1957, and Hayworth is not as young and gorgeous as she is in her quintessential femme fatale roles of the 1940s (Gilda, The Lady From Shanghai, and Affair in Trinidad), but she is still a beautiful presence on screen. Fire Down Below is an average film that is mostly watchable for it’s stars. The film seems to shift its tone between romance (the love triangle of the actors) and adventure/disaster style film. I think the first part works better for m simply because my interest is much more in the actors of this film then it is the plot. All in all, Fire Down Below isn’t bad standard studio (and Production Code) entertainment.

August 29th Log

2006, Spike Lee, United States
1st Viewing, HBO

Tonight I just watched all four parts of Spike Lee’s Hurricane Katrina documentary, When the Levees Broke. Seek this on out on HBO for repeat (I think they’ll play it either in parts 1-2 and 3-4, or the entire 4-hour program as they did tonight). Many emotions hit me watching this film from heartbreak to anger. It’s a thought-provoking, honest, deeply moving film that needs to be seen. Spike Lee has made an outstanding film! The film begins with a perfectly mood-setting Louis Armstrong song over footage of old New Orleans contrasted with images of Hurricane Katrina New Orleans. As the title suggests, the film is separated into four acts (each about one hour long). Act I begins with the precautions, evacuations, and beginning of the hurricane. There is some hope at the end of Act 1 as we the strength of human spirit, but the absolute tragedy and despair is further revealed in Act 2. Act 2 details the Hurricane at it’s peak and the damage, suffering, and loss while also questioning why such a (preventable?) disaster even occurred. Prevented may be a poor choice of words, because you can not prevent nature, but clearly the events of this horrific natural disaster (quite possibly the worst in the history of America) displayed a lack of leadership and even human compassion. This tragedy shows a disappointing truth about America’s leadership. Is it race related? Maybe, but more then race it is class-related. Act 3 and 4 try to find some of the unanswerable questions and clearly the rage, confusion, loss of hope, and anger of those who suffered (and in most cases are still suffering) is relevant. The end of the film looks for the hope of New Orleans future and the return of its citizens, their family and the city’s rich culture, while also wondering if they are even welcomed back. Lee is honest and never really forces the message of the film, as the material speaks for itself. When the Levees Broke is a beautifully made film. One that is passionately made and absolutely heartbreaking to experience. The images of the film are haunting, the thought-provoking issues are important, and the emotional experience is one of anger and sadness. The musical score by Terrance Blanchard (who’s family is involved with the tragedy) adds another layer of depth and sadness. Lee caps the film off with a perfect closing credits sequence, highlighting each interviewer with a name introduction within a consciously placed picture frame, which captures the expressive of the films sincere emotion theme of unity and family. Despite all the anger, suffering, and tragedy, underneath the surface it is this theme of family and unity that makes this a film of optimism. This is a great film that should definitely be seen!!

August 28th Log

1932, Gustav Machty, Czechoslovakia
1st Viewing, Turner Classic Movies

Today’s Turner Classic Movies ‘Summer Under the Stars in August’ featured Hedy Lamarr. This gave me an opportunity to finally see the film she became notorious for. Made in Czechoslovakia in 1932, this erotic film caused a worldwide scandal for it’s sexuality (which includes both sex and nudity). Of course the most famous scene is Larmarr’s skinny-dip which is shortly followed by her chasing after a horse while naked (the horse is running away with her dress). It is here where she meets new love in a younger man more open to her sexual desires (she ultimately leaves her older husband). Some of this is dated, but the charming simplicity and erotic atmosphere still holds up well. The photography is stunning and cinematic techniques, including imagery and editing, recall Russian filmmaker Sergei Eisenstein. Clearly the camera loves filming Larmarr and she is quite a stunning presence. Much of this is like a silent film as there is very little dialogue ever spoken. Credit to the cast for expressive performances (including Larmarr’s facial expressions during sex). After Ecstasy, Larmarr moved to Hollywood and signed with MGM. She would go on to a successful career, but she would always be remembered for Ecstasy. Poetic and sensual, it stands as a landmark simply for its notorious impact on world cinema.

August 27th Log

1987, Mohsen Makhmalbaf, Iran
1st Viewing, DVD

Mohsen Makhmalbaf is one of the key filmmakers of the Iranian movement that has generated worldwide recognition since the late 1980s and early 90s. Makhmalbaf has a very hyper and aggressive style as a filmmaker (even in the most subtle of moments). Though I believe Abbas Kiarostami to be the greatest master of Iranian cinema (and he is considered by many among the greatest filmmakers in all of contemporary cinema), Makhmalbaf is undoubtedly a highly gifted and perhaps an even more imaginative filmmaker then Kiarostami. With The Cyclist (his 6th feature), Mo creates a deeply impacting emotional journey of human existence. The film is one of suffering and dehumanization yet the feverishly energetic style as well as the sense of reliance for the lead character make The Cyclist a hopeful film. Makhmalbaf uses camera techniques and colors to heighten the visual expression of the films themes and emotions. This film has a lot to say about humanity and human cruelness, as well as social issues such as poverty. Most of the emotional connection of the film is found within the metaphors of the themes and images, which makes this a different film for different individuals. You have to applaud the style Makhmalbaf gives this film, and though I’ve yet to see all of his features, I would rate this alongside Kandahar as Makhmalbaf’s best.

1955, Charles Laughton, United States
Repeat Viewing, DVD

"Ah, little lad, you're staring at my fingers. Would you like me to tell you the little story of right-hand/left-hand? The story of good and evil?" Night of the Hunter is a film that leaves me speechless. The breathtaking images and emotions captured within the film is truly indescribable and among the most incredible in cinema. Night of the Hunter is a film that is so artistic, and so timeless, and so rare, and oh so astounding. Any image or frame of the film looks like nothing else ever made. This is truly a rare and unique film, specifically visually with it's stunning black and white composed images, lighting, and shadows. Much of it recalls the imagery of German expressionism of the silent era, and with the legendary Lillian Gish starring, it's also pretty easy to think of D.W. Griffith. But make no mistake, The Night of the Hunter is an artistic masterpiece of it's own and incomparable to any other film. This was the first and only film Charles Laughton ever directed (as he was primarily an actor). Robert Mitchum has never been better or more memorable then he is here as the evil "preacher" who's greed puts him in pursuit of two young children. The cinematography is the work of absolute perfection and beauty in defining the films dark and haunting atmosphere. Night of the Hunter is just so perfect. I love it! The endless layers and depth, the visual and emotional atmosphere, the stylistic power and mystery, and the haunting beauty is such a captivating experience. Ultimately Night of the Hunter is a symbolic film of greed and human nature that is both haunting and suspenseful, and above all atmospheric and dreamlike. This film represents all that is wonderful about cinema as an art form. Night of the Hunter is one of the very greatest achievements in film history. "They abide, and they endure."

August 26th Log

2005, Arie Posin, United States
1st Viewing, DVD

The problem is that this seems a bit forced and artificial at times. The characters are treated in a condescending matter and the film develops them and the themes as either black-or-white. It just feels as though the film is screaming out its message, one that shares the “look closer” view of Suburban America (similar to superior films like Ordinary People or Donnie Darko). The film does try to deal with some serious issues and often it is effective (the selfish mother “talking” to her son through a closed door unknowing he was kidnapped), but the problems arise with the overly forced symbolic metaphors (such as the dolphins or the video-games). As a whole The Chumscrubber is not a great film, yet there are moments and aspects that do make it a good film. The cast is outstanding. You can never go wrong with the great Ralph Fiennes, but the standout performances come from the leads Jamie Bell and Camilla Belle. To me they are two of the finest young actors in film today and they develop a nice chemistry together (even when talking on the phone offscreen). Maybe it’s that I really like the cast so much, because I would say The Chumscrubber is a recommended film. It is forceful and some of the characters are exploited more then developed, but Jamie Bell and Camilla Belle give engaging performances to keep the film involved on a level it requires to be effective.

2006, Nnegest Likke, United States
1st Viewing, DVD

Ok this is not a great film, but it really isn’t that bad. I looked Phat Girlz up on imdb after watching it and saw that it is rated #1 on the Bottom 100 Films list with a 1.8 rating. Come on! Not that I really care, because such a rating is meaningless, but did these people actually see this film or did they just see the trailer? Sure this is not too heavy (pun unintended) on laughs, but there are far worse comedies being made today with whole a whole lot less intelligence and passion (or even compassion). The filmmakers use the material for the obvious comedic material but in comparison to some other films being made today, this seems to be more approachable then some of the weak attempts at recreating the Farrelly’s Brothers gross out humor. There is also a bit more intelligence then you would expect as the filmmakers are not focused solely on marketing to teenage boys in order to make huge box office profits. The strength is that Mo'Nique is in a well suited starring role to shine and she does have the ability to pull it off. The jokes are obvious and maybe even repetitive but this is a watchable film that is likable enough.

August 25th Log

2006, Ericson Core, United States
1st Viewing, Theater

Invincible is the type of movie that has been done many times before, but it remains effective. Stories like this are inspiring and positive. They may not be all that original from one another, yet like the figure of Vince Papale (who was a hero the everyday working-class South Philadelphian could relate with), films like this can be a positive feel-goof symbol of possibility and hope. Perhaps that is an overstatement (or maybe even a statement on the power of cinema!), but Invincible is definitely an uplifting film. The standout here is Mark Wahlberg, who delivers an outstanding performance as Vince Papale. He portrays a professional football player almost convincingly as he does a porn star. The supporting cast is also strong. Greg Kinnear takes on a challenging task of playing a very familiar figure (Coach Dick Vermeil) and for the most part does a fine job. Also, Elizabeth Banks adds some charm as Papale’s love interest (who happens to be a New York Giants fan).

2005, Hans Petter Moland, United States / Norway
Repeat Viewing, DVD

Based on an original concept from the great Terrence Malick, The Beautiful Country is a simple and quiet film that works as both a love story, and a tragedy. It also works as a hopeful story of connection and this is the strength of the film. The connection of two cultures (American and Vietnamese) and two souls (a lonely Vietnamese son and his lonely American GI father) who are both forever intertwined. The film is never political but focuses more on the cultures connections among America and Vietnam, as Binh, goes on a difficult journey to find his father in America. He is helped by a beautiful Chinese girl (Ling played by the usually terrific Bai Ling), whom he begins to fall in love with. It is a touching and rather sad film that calmly and quietly builds towards in moving finale. When it reaches it's end the viewer is left with some wonderfully emotional moments without ever being forced by the filmmakers. The Beautiful Country (a metaphoric title for the father and sons inner thoughts of the each others countries) is a beautiful yet sad yet hopeful film.

1973, Peter Bogdanovich, United States
Repeat Viewing, DVD

Even for it's conventions Peter Bogdanovich's Paper Moon is a wonderfully and irresistibly enjoyable film. That's in part because of the heart and fun energy of Bogdanovich's direction, but also the charm of the lead characters Ryan O'Neal as the con-man and Tatum O'Neal as his "daughter?". Of course Tatum is Ryan's real-life daughter and the chemistry amongst the two is absolutely wonderful. Adding to the joy of the film is the wonderful jazz music, and dazzling deep focus black and white cinematography. Also the Depression-era period details are perfect. The Depression plays as a backdrop and really gives Paper Moon it's lovely tone and comedy, as the cons are more for personal survival rather then getting rich. Bogdanovich is such a smart filmmaker with alot of respect for film and film history. It's pretty obvious he has a fondness of old Hollywood films and filmmaking and he's having alot of fun recreating them here with Paper Moon. It's funny, warm-hearted, and incredibly touching (the ending is perfect!). Paper Moon is impossible to resist!

August 23rd Log

1944, Billy Wilder, United States
Repeat Viewing, DVD

A newly restored special edition dvd release of Billy Wilder’s classic (released this week) had me revisit the film again. I’ve seen it many times in many formats (including on the big screen last year) and it seems to get better and better very time. It is one of my favorite films and I can easily say Double Indemnity is one of the very greatest films to come from a major Hollywood Studio. Double Indemnity is worthy of every once a praise it receives. A film so dark yet so magical and ultimately so brilliant it represents everything beautiful about cinema! The film is defintive noir. In terms of visual composition and contrast lighting, Double Indemnity is among the standard achievements in film. As to be expected from Billy Wilder, the quick-witted dialogue is brilliant, and the acting is top notch; especially by Barbara Stanwyck. Stanwyck steals the show with her performance as Phyllis. Everytime she's on the screen you can't help but key your eyes on her. She is the quintessential femme fatale of cinema. As terrifying as she is beautiful! Fred MacMurray's performance is also very good as Walter Neff, a sharp-talking insurance salesman who falls into corruption, and murder upon weakening to the seductive Phyllis. Neff is immediately drawn to the friendly eroticism of Phyllis (as well as her “honey of an anklet”), and the contrast and pending doom of their relationship is visually expressed in their first moments together (notably through the use of composition and particularly in lighting and shadows). They are two doomed souls that are emotionally trapped, not by the guilt of a murder, but by the fear of discovery. They must rely on each other yet are uncertain if they can even trust one another. The film taps into many psychological levels of human behavior and relationships (including the often overlooked father/son-like relationship of Neff and his boss Keyes, brilliantly played by James G. Robinson). Neff seems equally as fixated on “beating” his mentor Keyes, but it is Keyes who ultimately predicts their fate throughout the film (even before knowing who the murderer is). Then even Neff knew his fate as he told Keyes “Suddenly it came over me that everything would go wrong. It sounds crazy, Keyes, but it’s true, so help me. I couldn’t hear my own footsteps. It was the walk of a dead man.” As early as the opening frame (heightened by Miklos Rozsa’s memorable score), Double Indemnity is a film of inescapable doom... “a one-trip ride all the way to the end of line and the last stop is the cemetery.”

1995, Noah Baumbach, United States
1st Viewing, DVD

In his feature filmmaking debut Noah Baumbach (at the age of 25 years) wrote and directed this little hidden gem from 1995, Kicking and Screaming. The film has been given life on DVD thanks in part to both the success of Baumbach independent hit The Squid and the Whale, as well as Criterion Collections outstanding release. This is a wonderful film that seems to recall the college wit and sophistication of Whit Stillman’s 1990 masterpiece Metropolitan. This is a film that defines a generation. It is an extremely funny film with endlessly quotable lines of dialogue. There are so many little quirks and moments that I can imagine only getting better with repeat viewings. What makes this film really special is the remarkable way in which Baumbach handles his characters (as well as the entire ensemble cast- Josh Hamilton, Jason Wiles, Olivia dab, Eric Stilts, Carlos Jabot, Elliott Gould, Parker Posey, Cara Boone, and Chris Iceman, who also starred in Metropolitan). The tone of this film is very much similar to that of Baumbach’s The Squid and the Whale in that it has moments that are funny, touching, authentic and heartbreaking all within the same moment. There is a truth and philosophy to this film that really leaves a touching mark. Throughout the film Baumbach uses flashback scenes from one of the films young couples first moments together. This technique is an unconventional one that seems out of place at first, but really grows as the film progresses and it concludes with a heartbreaking feeling of emotional longing and loss.

August 22nd Log

2006, Wolfgang Peterson, United States
1st Viewing, DVD

Director Wolfgang Peterson seems to be obsessed with claustrophobic disaster films in water, but a successful track record is probably the reason (with the most notable examples being Das Boot and The Perfect Storm). Here Peterson remakes one of the most entertaining disaster films of the 1970s (a decade loaded with them)- 1972’s The Poseidon Adventure. Certainly no cinematic masterpiece of art, The Poseidon Adventure is pure blockbuster fun and excitement (and packed with a star-studded cast). The remake is pretty much the same deal but on a larger scale (budget-wise anyway). The result is a less campy film, but ultimately a film that also losses some of the psychological character depth that makes the original a superior film. Surprisingly this film is shorter and that is one of its problems, as the filmmakers seem content on rushing this along as brainless entertainment. Really brainless entertainment is all it amounts to, but it does have it’s exciting qualities (and I’m a fan of Kurt Russell and Josh Lucas, who both hold their own here). Like the disaster films of the 1970s did with the Vietnam War, Poseidon seems to make parallels with a post 9/11 America. Poseidon is a different film then it’s original but the conventions and emotional focus is the same, as nothing done here is all that original. Let’s face it, both of the Poseidon films are a bit cheesy, but the original clearly has a more guilty-pleasure appeal. However, as pure entertainment, this Poseidon remake does work.

2006, Christophe Gans, United States / Canada / France / Japan
1st Viewing, DVD

Silent Hill is a horror film that is so focused on style and flashy techniques that the emotional impact is lost in the mix. Of course the fact that everything doesn’t really make sense as a whole may also have something to do with it (but then again I know nothing of the video game this was adapted from). The film is not with its style. There is some really neat production design here, it is very well shot, and also an interesting twist on zombies. The film is much longer then it needs to be at 125 minutes. Silent Hill is not all that scary and the symbolic religious aspects and story seems to be a bit confusing to piece together coherently, but the visual aspects of the film are effective.

2005, James Westby, United States

1st Viewing, DVD

I think this film will appeal to some audiences, but I personally was left with mixed thoughts. Film Geek is not the most original or important of films and it is made on a seemingly minimal budget, yet that really is not it’s problem. To me the film seems to exploit the material and it’s character in a way that it disguised at heart-felt. I think there is some personal material for the writer-director James Westby and maybe we begin to understand him more then we do the lead character. For that the film is honorable but also a bit surprising or even strange given the way the lead character (Scotty Pelk, a film obsessed loner) is presented. Westby does have a love and passion for cinema and it’s history and the film makes endless numbers of references and little quirks that all film lovers can relate to and enjoy. There are some nice moments to the film (particularly early on, or in Westby’s subtle Brian De Palma/Femme Fatale split screen homage) but even at 78 minutes this film wears down and becomes more and more uninteresting and forced. Film Geek is recommended but it didn’t really for me personally. I do look forward to seeing more of Westby’s work (I did watch his short film The Auteur was which featured on the DVD), as clearly he has a knowledge and appreciation of cinema.

August 21st Log

1938, Marcel Carne, France
Repeat Viewing, DVD

Marcel Carne's classic French film, Port of Shadows, is a beautiful film of longing, and love. Carne and his usual screenwriting partner Jacques Prevert may be more known for their masterpiece Children of Paradise, which is often considered among the very greatest films in French cinema. However, as worthy as that film is, to me, Port of Shadows is their greatest film. Through a deeply absorbing visual atmosphere of fog, and stylized settings, Port of Shadowscaptures human longing, chance, and ultimately poetic realism with absolute perfection. The performances are all fabulous, but especially that of the gangster godfather Michael Simon. The opening scene is truly thrilling and will immediately grab the viewers attention all the through it's fateful ending moments. Simply put, Port of Shadows is a poetic masterpiece of French cinema, during a glorious decade of French films, and from one of France's most important filmmakers.

August 20th Log

2006, Oliver Stone, United States
1st Viewing, Theater

Oliver Stone films do not always work for me. On the surface, World Trade Center would seem quite unique for most of his previous (more cynical work) yet this ultimately shares what Stone captured in many of his most memorable films. There is a big-budget quality to this film that looks to recapture the nostalgia of American tradition and celebrate the epics of the past. Stone holds back on the political views but doesn’t let up with the sentiment. However, nothing ever feels forced and the power and uplifting spirit of the film is incredibly effective. Really this is a film that should be embraced. This is easily the type of film that could have been cynical or political, but rather becomes a positive film of the human resolve and generosity. These types of films were much more common in the days of Frank Capra so it is actually refreshing when films are made like this today. Stone keeps his tendency of over-stylization minimal, instead focusing on the tragedy, the survivors, and their families. From the opening we understand this will be a true life event from the survivors perspective and that is actually what we get (we see the attacks and the survival effort strictly from the perspective of them and the families). The film also does a really nice job of capturing the moment and really giving the sense that everything we see actually occurred. World Trade Center is a real tearjerker. A film that will leave you with tears of equal sadness and joy. I’d say this rates among the best films Oliver Stone has ever made.

1947, Henri-Georges Clouzot, France
Repeat Viewing, DVD

After being blacklisted by the French for his Le Corbeau, Henri-Georges Clouzot returned four years later to make 1947’s Quai des Orfevres. Trying to establish more creditability in his native country, Clouzot’s next film was a change of pace. While his films are known for their cynical and depressing atmosphere, his 1947 film Quai des Orfevres was pretty much standard genre filmmaking. A skillfully made crime noir Quai des Orfevres became a critical and commercial hit and ultimately Clouzot would use this success to return to his more definitive filmmaking approach, which is often overpoweringly cruel, sour and ironic. What makes the film better then the average genre crime thriller is Clouzot’s atmosphere (always a trademark), and most especially the characterizations. Really it the characters that give this film the emotional depth and it is what makes the film more enjoyable on repeat viewings (most notably in comparison to figuring out who did what or other less important plot devices). I don’t think Quai des Orfevres is on the level of Clouzot’s masterful psychological thrillers (of which includes his definitive masterwork Diabolique). However, this is a highly engaging film.

1960, Yasujiro Ozu, Japan

Repeat Viewing, DVD

In master Japanese filmmaker Yasujiro Ozu’s Late Autumn, he shifts his most common relationship (father-daughter) into a relationship of a widowed woman (brilliantly played by Setsuko Hara) who is looking to remarry, and her daughter whom is offended that her mother would want to remarry. The mother is also pushing marriage onto her daughter (as do her best friend and three middle-age men who all wanted to marry her mother), yet she insists she is fine without a husband. Late Autumn certainly recalls Ozu's definitive 1949 masterpiece Late Spring, yet it is a bit more of a gentle, lighthearted comedy that still plays on many of Ozu's traditional themes and complex emotions. Ozu's use of composition acts as another character in the film and captures most of the expression and emotions of the film (most notably in the masterful use of color). Ultimately with Late Autumn Ozu captures the essence of life's simplicity and humans tendency to complicate it. At the core of all of Ozu's postwar films is the unavoidable sadness of life caused by change. The ending captures this in a perfectly bittersweet way as we see Akiko alone. She is sad that her daughter has left, yet is smiling as she accepts this sadness and is happy for her daughter. But again we wonder if they've conformed their simple life of happiness to fulfill the 'obligations' of life. Simple, humorous, warm, and deeply touching, Late Autumnis another masterpiece from one of cinema's true masters of filmmaking.

August 19th Log

1936, Gregory La Cava, United States
Repeat Viewing, DVD

Following up yesterdays quintessential 1930s screwball comedy, I decided to re-watch another of the decades greatest, 1936’s My Man Godfrey. My Man Godfrey is a classic in every sense of the word. One of the definitive screwball comedies of American film, it remains a timeless joy. The script (which is heavily improvised) is wonderful and captures intelligent and witty dialogue, artistic depth, and of course a whole lot of zany fun. Carole Lombard, who is without a doubt one of my favorite actresses of all-time, is as lovely as ever. Lombard is an incomparable actress that displays radiant beauty, charm, and glamour with an ability to be absolutely hysterical. Here she is excellent once again as Irene Bullock, a spoiled rich daughter who falls in love with the butler she hired after finding him in the city dump during a scavenger hunt game. The butler (Godfrey, played by the great William Powell) is not in for an easy task as working for the Bullock family is not an easy task. This was the first film to ever receive four acting nominations at the Academy Awards, and deservedly so as the entire cast is outstanding. Powell and Lombard are most notable, but everyone is terrific and memorable in their own way: Eugene Pallette as the Father who feels as though his losing his mind and his fortunes, Alice Brady in a hysterical role as the mother, Gail Patrick as the deceitful and sibling rival of Irene, and of course Mischa Auer as Mother Bullock's protégé Carlo. My Man Godfrey just works. Everything comes together beautifully and the result is a classic and hilarious screwball comedy that is a joy to watch and re-watch! "All you need to start an asylum is an empty room and the right kind of people."

1957, Stanley Donen, United States
Repeat Viewing, Turner Classic Movies

Audrey Hepburn was todays feature on TCM’s Month-long ‘Summer Under the Stars’. I decided to re-watch one of her more entertaining films 1957’s Funny Face. You know the film's going to be good when you have a film starring Fred Astaire and Audrey Hepburn, shot in Paris, and featuring music by George Gershwin. And Funny Face is just that! A truly memorable and inescapable film of charm, beauty, and absolute glamour. Visually, the film is breathtaking to behold. The scenery is composed of grace, elegance, and sophistication. While some of the plot is rather goofy, the magical and absorbing spell is almost impossible to resist. As is the screen presence of it's two icon Hollywood figures: Fred Astaire and Audrey Hepburn. Truly as unforgettable as they come and this film may not have been either of their best, but it marked their only collaboration together (amazingly Astaire was 30 years older then Hepburn during the making of this film). And of course, the marvelous Gershwin score and songs (highlighted by 'Bonjour Paris') is perhaps what makes this film so lovely. This is essentially the only non-dubbed singing Hepburn did and of course she is such a charming presence on screen. Stanley Donen may not have been the most cinematic filmmaker, but he was a gifted choreographer and his films always displayed an energetic and vibrant touch. Even for it's silliness or flaws, Funny Face is a visually stunning and incredibly glamorous Hollywood musical that will remain a classic.

August 18th Log

1938, Howard Hawks, United States
Repeat Viewing, DVD

Howard Hawks' 1938 film Bringing Up Baby stands as one of (if not the) definitive "screwball comedy" of American cinema. The film is non-stop zaniness. It's such a magical, fun and joyous film to experience. The performances and screen chemistry of Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn is brilliant. Their comic timing is legendary and together represents one of the cinema's finest comedic performances. Bringing Up Baby's energy is incredible. The plot is pretty much thrown in the air and what results is one crazy thing after another as everyone is running around and making mistakes. There isn't a moment that doesn't belong, as each and every scene is perfect and memorable. Hawks was a versatile master of filmmaking and undoubtedly one of America’s greatest directors of the studio era. Hawks could do it all and no matter what genre he was working with the narrative storytelling and pacing is flawless. Even in a zany film like this, Hawks perfectly controls the storytelling with comedic ease and a concentration of strong characterization. Without the visual style of many of his peers of the era, and with heavy-focus on narrative, Hawks still made films with a strong artistic and personal expression, much of what can be discovered underneath the surfaces of his narratives. There is a sense of adventure and energy that emerge from Hawks’ detailed examination of his characters decisions. Hawks characters tend to hide their true feelings either through silence or endless talking (such is the case in the non-stop dialogue of this screwball comedies). The center of most of Hawks narratives are characters that need or grow and believe in one another, and Hawks’ films follow this development through both feeling and thought. With this film everything just works beautifully. Bringing Up Baby is a timeless classic from truly classic director and actors. A film to cherish. A film that will leave a smile on your face, and is sure to brighten up even the darkest of days!

2003, Kiyoshi Kurosawa, Japan

Repeat Viewing, DVD

Japanese director Kiyoshi Kurosawa is an intriguing filmmaker. His films can be difficult in terms of plot, yet the visual style and energy created is mind-blowing. His 2003 film, Bright Future is no exception. Through long extended takes, split-screens, multiple narratives, Kurosawa creates a fascinating, surreal, dreamlike atmosphere of isolation. This visual atmosphere represents the main characters disconnection with the world. Kurosawa adds poetic symbolism's, unpredictability, and unique cinematic touches throughout. Bright Future can be most compared to Kurosawa's Charisma, which (as this film does with Jellyfish) features a "deadly creature" outside it's environment. The Jellyfish, much like the films characters, are searching their unknown environment, deeply navigating towards a brighter future. Ultimately, Bright Future is a film of survival and hope. The final shot displays the films theme as we see a group of young boys, walking with assurance, towards the future that lies ahead.

August 17th Log

1955, Henri-Georges Clouzot, France
Repeat Viewing, DVD

Continuing with Henri-Georges Clouzot month I rewatched the film I consider to be his greatest masterwork and among the most expressive suspense films ever made: 1955’s Diabolique. Clouzot was often considered the French Alfred Hitchcock. However, that's unfair for many reasons. As brilliant as Hitchcock is, Clouzot is equal in his own way. While both made psychological suspense thrillers, Clouzot's (who contained more character depth, and left much less closure) are ultimately a far separation from Hitchcock in both tone and style. Both are brilliant in their own way, and Hitchcock highly respected his proclaimed rival. Clouzot's genius and vision can best be seen here (sadly this was unjustly remade in America in 1996). A film of such tension and suspense it's mind-blowing. Through fascinating visual techniques and cinematography, Clouzot absorbs the viewer into its atmosphere. It's a film that gradually builds through it's characters, all while a chilling and dark undertone remains. Ultimately, Diabolique is a psychological and intellectual (and quite negative) examination of basic human nature. It's also a film of fear. The fear of a guilty conscience. The ending is deeply haunting and wickedly clever. What Psycho (made 5 years after this film) did for showers, Diabolique does for baths (if not moreso). Diabolique is as cynical and cold as you’d expect from Clouzot and it certainly does not end on an uplifting note. With masterful control of the camera, the acting (lead by his Clouzot’s lovely wife Vera), compositions, and a definitive tone of irony and bitterness, Diabolique stands as the quietness entail Clouzot masterwork. This is Clouzot at the peak of his artistic vision as a filmmaker and the film stands a prime example dark psychological suspense thrillers. A classic not to be missed!!

1955, Henri-Georges Clouzot, France
1st Viewing, DVD

Another film from the great French auteur Henri-Georges Clouzot, but this film may be less his then it is legendary painter Pablo Picasso’s. The film opens with a prologue and a beautiful profile image of Picasso sitting down. He quickly arises and begins to paint as the camera closely captures, thus beginning an unusual cinematic exploration into the mind of a unique artist. The prologue shows Picasso as he begins to paint but the film camera essentially becomes Picasso hand throughout. It may not be a film for everyone, but it can be viewed on various levels: as an examination into the mind or motive of the artist, as well as a study into the artist, and even into the very techniques of painting. As a film The Mystery of Picasso is truly rare. Clouzot simply goes into the very essence of the painter and the film becomes equally unique and even suspenseful in that we await the final results of the paintings. Clouzot mixes the pacing through different methods of presenting the art (sometimes with Picasso’s hands, other times with jump cuts, and at one point a with a change in the films aspect ratio to widescreen). In all there are twenty paintings here and the work is fascinating to view and/or study. This film is a wonderful journey into art and the discovery of the artist. You won’t see anything else quite like it.

2001, Victor Salva, United States
1st Viewing, DVD

After seeing Jeepers Creepers tonight and Wolf Creek last night, I must admit that the horror genre is far from gone in the 21st century. Sure the genre has seen it’s share of bad films recently, but there are plenty of good horror films being made and I believe Jeepers Creepers is among them. Though similar in some regards, I wouldn’t really compare this to the more graphic, atmospheric, and visually poetic Wolf Creek but Jeepers Creepers is solid horror that is more of a throw back to the old-fashion style of genre filmmaking (which begins as early as the outstanding opening scene). Yes there are cliches and perhaps even some silliness, but it is a film that gets its scare by intelligently relying on the viewers imagination (particularly in the first half). The impact is lost a bit when the film gives us a visual of “the monster”, yet the first half does an effective job of playing with rhythm (a requirement for good horror), and more importantly building a connection with the characters (a compassionate brother and a sister relationship). The films title is a bit cheesy but it does make sense within the film and surprisingly works. It is really not all that graphic or violent of a film as the focus is wisely put on the emotional element of characters. Jeepers Creepers does what it should in that it keeps the viewer involved with a blends of thrills, chills, and compassion. The film ends on what is probably it’s most angry and twisted sequence. Jeepers Creepers was followed by a sequel two years later, so I guess I’ll have to check that out soon.

August 16th Log

2005, Greg McLean, Australia
1st Viewing, DVD

Wolf Creek is probably not a film that will appeal to all audiences but die-hard or even moderate horror fans will definitely love this. As far as modern horror goes, this is as good as it gets. Wolf Creek is exceptionally made genre filmmaking. It does what the best horror films do: build atmosphere, play with rhythm, and above all terrify. Using a true story and an alienated Australian setting, producer-writer-director Greg McLean (in his feature film debut) exploits and recreates the conventions of the genre narrative. The result is a film that is graphic and horrifying, which is most effective because it’s ultimately relies on the viewers imagination (a method that always proves to be more impacting then anything shown on screen). Wolf Creek utilizes the seemingly overused torture sequences which evokes many of the modern-day horror (as well as the film primary influence Texas Chainsaw Massacre). Brutal or not, Wolf Creek is scary. What makes it a great film to me is the atmosphere the film captures through it’s setting and photography. There is an expressive, poetic, and haunting sense that to this film that is established in its very opening moments and later recalled in the final image. If you a fan of horror films, Wolf Creek is a must see!

2005, Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, Belgium / France
1st Viewing, DVD

French brothers Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne are two of the most acclaimed filmmakers in the contemporary world cinema. L’Enfant won the Palme d’Or at the 2005 Cannes Film Festival. I have admired all of the films I’ve seen, but none of them struck me all the masterpieces they seem to be acclaimed as. I would put this right among their previous work. An incredibly moving and powerful story of morals. The Dardenne are great humanist filmmakers, who films reflect a deeply authentic portrayal of human behavior. They have a very definitive style of narrative, one that keeps the audience very close with the films characters. This makes for a deep emotional connection as well as a greater understanding and depth of the characters. Maybe the most impacting aspect of this film is what it leaves for the audiences to interpret from it’s heartbreaking story. The title is ambitious (translated in English to ‘The Child’) as is the ending that leaves the possibility for both redemption and in the final moment possible hope.


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