Tuesday, October 31, 2006

October Archives #2

October 31st Log

1953 / 1958, Jacques Tati, France
Repeat Viewing, DVD

I decided to end the month with a double-billing of two more Jacques Tati classics! Tati is one of the very greatest comedians in the history of film. A master of visual comedy that rates alongside the legendary figures of the silent cinema (Buster Keaton, Charlie Chaplin, and Harold Lloyd). Tati was an artist in every sense. A perfectionist who controlled every detail without compromise. As such, Tati only made six features, but his place in film history is to me one of the very greatest filmmakers of all-time. Like Keaton and Chaplin, Tati began on the stage and like them both Tati was known for playing the same character in his films- Mr. Hulot a charming, everyday yet simpleminded character who seems oblivious of the world around him, which is becoming more and more congested, mad, and device-obsessed. It is his naive mindset that turns the world around him from madness into absolute chaos, and this is where Tati’s comic brilliance is developed. Just from a psychical standpoint Tati’s Mr Hulot looks as if he is living in a world he doesn’t belong in. He looks and especially moves unlike anyone else, as he is always leaning forward on an angle with his trademark hat, pipe, umbrella, and flood pants. In Tati’s world, modern technology and proficient devices ultimately prove to be useless and ineffective. He prefers a life of individuality and one that doesn’t seem hurried to meet everyone’s wants. Above all, Tati supports the hopeful qualities of life and how modernized technology changes can affect the goodness of human connection. Visually, Tati rates as one of the very great masters of composition and space. His films contain very little dialogue (or dialogue that is muffled and dwarfed by sound). Tati’s expression is captured through his masterful use of visual composition and use of sound. Characters, and even the emotional state of characters, are defined by the complex depth of visual compositions (including clothes, posture, behavior, backgrounds, and environment). Tati’s films are specifically concerned with the limits of the visual composition. In a way, Tati’s visuals distant the viewer toward the role of the observant, which ultimately has a more effective emotional connection with the film. His films express visually detailed worlds that are unlike our own yet because we can see, hear and feel it from a distance, the result is essentially an emotionally involving and universal reflection of our own world. After writing and starring in some comedies in the 1930s and 40s, Tati made his directorial debut with 1949’s Jour de Fete. While Jour de Fete is definitive Tati in style and themes, it was his second film (1953’s Mr Hulot’s Holiday) that introduced the world to his beloved Mr. Hulot character. The film was a worldwide success and even earned Tati an Academy Award nomination for Best Writing. His third film (1958’s Mon Oncle) may be his most fully celebrated and endearing comic masterworks. A quintessentially observant visual comedy, Mon Oncle is a satire of humanities modernized obsession. It may be the funniest of all his films, but to me his greatest masterpiece was his next film, 1967’s Playtime. Tati’s cinema blends charming and inventive visual gags, social satire, and a mastery of emotional expression through visual composition and sound. He stands as one of the worlds all-time greatest and most artistically expressive comedians. Both available on Criterion DVD, Mr Hulot’s Holiday and Mon Oncle are highly recommended for all audiences!

October 30th Log

1980, Akira Kurosawa, Japan

Repeat Viewing, DVD

Akira Kurosawa’s 1980 epci samirai film was made with what was (at the time) the largest budget in Japanese film history. In order to secure such a massive budget, Toho Studios gained funding from 20th Century Fox (at the encouragment of George Lucas and Francis Ford Coppola). I’ve seen this film a couple times, and while there is plenty to admire I believe Kagemusha to be one of Kurosawa’s weakest and most dated films. This was Kurosawa’s third film in color (behind Derusu Uzara and Dodes'ka-den) and his narrative vision changed over the transition. Themetically Kurosawa always remained similar (with a focus on humanity and nature, aging, war, power, etc). Kagemusha also recalls a trademark theme of power and the contrast of illusion and reality. His color films are made in a more dream-like state and Kagemusha is no exception. Ultimatly Kurosawa’s vision is distant and duller then his psychologically complex films of feudal Japan. Kurosawa can tend to be preachy at times, but the biggest problem with this film may be an inconsistency that never captures the epci scale it strives for. The images are very often vivid and profound, byt they seemed distant and sporadic causing a surpringly uninteresting film. Certainly not a bad film, but Kagemusha is forgettable among Kurosawa’s filmography (especially since he followed it up with perhaps his greatest achivement, 1985’s Ran).

October 29th Log

2005, Barry W. Blaustein, United States
1st Viewing, DVD

The Ringer is a good film, but one that is also a mixed bag. A personal project for the Farrelly Brothers (who co-produced- but did not write or direct the film- and gave the Special Olympics full approval for the films release), The Ringer is sweet and charming but nit as often funny or original as the Farrelly’s films usually are. The heart is in the right place here, which doesn’t use Special Olympics as a source of exploitation or cheap laughs, and you do have to admire the intentions which is above all a film that respects the mentally challenged as equals. The strength is that the film does not present this urge in a way that is condescending, but rather compassionate and genuine. The problem is that the script (written by Ricky Blitt) is relatively all to familiar and the early setup of the story is rather uninspiring. The performances are fine, and help keep an emotional attachment to the characters. All in all, despite the script, The Ringer is a film to admire.

October 28th Log

1952, Nicholas Ray, United States
Repeat Viewing, DVD

"Sometimes people who are never alone are the loneliest." In many ways, Nicholas Ray's On Dangerous Ground is atwo-part film (particularly visually), with the first half being quintessential film noir (urban atmosphere, dark shadows, violence) and the second half becomes almost a romance in the snowy and wintry countryside. Ray's direction is flawless and the films imagery is both poetic and beautiful despite the simplistic filmmaking approach. Adding to Ray'sabsorbing atmosphere and humane characterization is Bernard Herrmann's wonderful musical score, and outstanding performances by Robert Ryan, Ida Lupino, andWard Bond. Ray is such a brilliant craftsman, and On Dangerous Ground rates among his most overlooked films that has only improved over time (even Ray himself said hewas not happy with this film when it was released). It's pretty remarkable discovering the depth, beauty, and vision within this film and repeat viewings only heighten the impact. Ultimately, On Dangerous Ground is a psychological examination of morality, loneliness, depression whichfeatures powerful and poetic images of environment. A rare display of noir from a highly skillful and bold filmmaker.

2001, Takashi Miike, Japan
Repeat Viewing, DVD

The Happiness of the Katakuris is made by cult Japanese filmmaker Takashi Miike, who stands as a modern day master of horror and atmosphere. Here is one of his most unique, original, and ultimately best films. The Happiness of the Katakuris blends elements of his quintessential violent horror (Audition, Ichi the Killer) with some truly absurd humor and singing. Yes, this is a musical comedy horror!! The energy and imagination is incredibly absorbing.Miike pretty much throws everything he can think of at the audience and the film just strangely has you smiling the entire time simply because of how oddly clever and refreshingly unique everything is. There is some warmth and care hidden within this film, but above all it is good cinematic fun. The Happiness of the Katakuris is a rare film in every sense!

October 27th Log

2006, Sofia Coppola, United States / France / Japan

1st Viewing, Theater

Marie Antoinette is very representative of Sofia Coppola’s cinematic style and themes. This is her third film and each of them have equally dealt with young woman trapped in a foreign world of isolation, loneliness, and boredom. While her other features were (at least to me) self-conscious and dull attempts of recreating Michelangelo Antonioni or Wong Kar-Wai, Marie Antoinette is a wonderful personal expression of an artist. Here Coppola captures the poetic expression of her imagery and sounds in a spirit that evokes the groundbreaking American pioneers of the 1970s (such as her father Francis Ford Coppola, or more specifically Terrence Malick). While not breaking cinematic grounds with this film, Coppola isn’t conforming within any boundaries either, and the result is an epic film of artistic achievement with a free and personal vision. Really to my surprise, I loved this film in every way. I think because above all, it is one of feeling. Coppola is less interested in ideas (be it political, historical, or psychological). Her interest is in mood, in gestures, tones, themes, and sensibilities. Those looking for intellectual or historic depth may be left disappointed, because this is a film at its best when playful and silly. That is not to say the film is without meaning and importance (or focus). The film distances the viewer from the past and period drama through modern effects (such as the unexpectedly non-distracting new wave music, or the removable of language accents), Coppola ultimately captures an emotional truth. At its core this modernized approach expresses the playful spirit of a young woman’s emotional and physical state. A dreamlike world of being entrapped into an unfamiliar environment of loneliness, and the longing for teenage freedom and possession (as well as rebellion). Often dialogue is never needed here. Through dazzling visuals, set designs, costumes, and makeup Marie Antoinette pitch-perfectly evokes this emotional expression (of which is clearly very personal to Coppola as a filmmaker, who can certainly make some parallels). Based on a sympathetic biography of Maria Antoinette, Coppola is deeply compassionate towards her. Ultimately this is a film of Coppola’s key expression, which is that of a lonely, imprisoned girl who retreats to her own private world of imagination but is destroyed by the uncontrollable desires within (being a young woman). Essentially Coppola is presenting this film as a dreamlike fantasy world through Marie Antoinette’s own imagination as she grows from a teenager to a woman. This is why Coppola films the final moments of Maria Antoinette as she does. While on a narrative level it may be flawed, I find her ending perfectly fitting and the final shot a beautifully expressive and essential image that defines the emotional and physical state the character. With her third film, Sofia Coppola has made a masterpiece!

1962, Yasujiro Ozu, Japan

Repeat Viewing, DVD

An Autumn Afternoon is Ozu's final statement and in many ways one of his greatest films. Made in the year of his mothers death (whom he lived with his entire life), it is a deeply personal film of loneliness, and alcoholism and death. It's once again simplistic in approach and a film that reexamines many of his father-daughter themes used in previous films. It also contains moments that are inspirational and humorous. Really An Autumn Afternoon is the perfect final film for Ozu as he leaves his final marks on the quintessential style and themes of of his postwar work. As Ozu grew older his films became less and less focused on plot, but the emotional complexities always remain, and this is one of his richest emotional films. Above all, An Autumn Afternoon captures Ozu trademark postwar philosophy of life that change as well as sadness are both necessary and expected, and in order to be happy they should be accepted. Ozu's final images beautifully summarize both the film and his career: A drunk Shuhei (played by Ozu's definitive actor Chishu Ryu) mumbles to himself "Now I'm all alone" before the film cuts to a series of interior shots of the isolated home (representing Shuhei's emotional feeling). Then the film concludes with the final Ozu image of Shuhei alone and pouring tea before sitting down, a truly unforgettable final image that flawlessly (and incredibly simplistically) portrays the emotions of loneliness and loss. It is rather fitting that his final film is one which examines the cycle of life. Ozu died a year after this film was made, but his life remains unforgettable.

October 26th Log

1949, Jacques Tati, France
Repeat Viewing, DVD

Jacques Tati’s first feature film was originally shot in both black and white and color, with the intention to be the first French feature film in color. Problems with the technology restricted the release to black-and-white. In 1995 the film was restored to color as Tati’s intention by his daughter. The result is a magical film full of Tati’s trademark expression and visual mastery of compositions. Tati’s later masterpieces would develop from this style and themes here, which again are almost without plot but rather full of observations. Many of the comedic gags come from Tati’s previous short film (1947’s School For Postmen), which also starred Tati as Francois the postman. The expression use of color is definitive in the way Tati captures the emotional essence of the film (which is to establish a small town dull and colorless existence suddenly spring to vivid life with the arrival of a carnival, only to return back as the carnival pulls away). Few filmmakers in the history of cinema are equal to Tati mastery of visual compositions and sounds, which is why he rates among the most unique and important artists in the history of filmmaking. He perfectly controls and details how sounds, colors, and space react within the imagery. Jour De Fete is the earliest representation of his genius and a film that defines how remarkably important and ahead of his time he was. While paralleling a postwar French society, Tati examines a postal worker desire (after watching a newsreel) to deliver mail in the fast-paced, high technology American style. In Tati’s world, modern technology and proficient devices ultimately prove to be useless and ineffective. He prefers a life of individuality and one that doesn’t seem hurried to meet everyone’s wants. Above all, Tati supports the hopeful qualities of life and how modernized technology changes can affect the goodness of human connection. This is all captured in Tati’s key observing character established throughout the film (an old lady with a cane and goat who moves throughout the village shares her thoughts and opinions). Tati would develop the themes and expressions of this film on funnier and more artistic levels, but Jour De Fete stands as a great early introduction to one of cinema’s most gifted filmmakers.

1940, Joseph Santley, United States
1st Viewing, DVD

After gaining attention from audiences with her stunning supporting performance in Howard Hawks great 1939 film Only Angels Have Wings (which starred Cary Grant and Jean Arthur), Rita Hayworth was on the verge of stardom. This 1940 film helped propel that stardom a bit further (though it really wasn’t until Columbia Pictures lent her to Warner Brothers for 1941’s Strawberry Blonde that made Hayworth a true star). Columbia Pictures screen goddess of the 1940’s, Hayworth is not at her most memorable here, but it is a joy to see the early development of her terrific career. Hayworth is most remembered for her good-bad girl roles (such as Gilda, Affair in Trinidad, and Lady From Shanghai), but she began as a dancer and some of her finest performances have come in musicals. Here Hayworth is only given a minor moment of dance as the stage is mostly set for Tony Martin’s singing. Much of the plot of this film is rather silly, but as a star-driven vehicle this has plenty of charm. Hayworth is stunning and there are enough little laughs throughout. While not the most significance of films, Music In My Heart is a film that speaks of true love as the conquering strength. Hayworth is one of my all-time favorite actresses, so I may be biased in saying this is a highly enjoyable film.

1949, George Cukor, United States

Repeat Viewing, Turner Classic Movies

Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy starred in 9 films together over a span of 25 years (of which they also shared an off-screen relationship). Most of them are fine films, but to me the one that stands out as truly great is Adam's Rib (their 6th film together). This is smartest and funniest Hepburn and Tracy collaboration and as in all their films together, the chemistry shines. Adam's Rib is a classic "battle of the sexes" comedy in which Hepburn plays a lawyer who is happily married to a District Attorney (played by Tracy). They eventually find themselves battling on opposite sides of a high-profile marriage case. Adam's Rib is directed by George Cukor, who always managed to get great performances from his stars. Cukor especially workedwell with leading ladies, and most particularly Hepburn, whom he directed on a total of 10 films. Adam's Rib presents generally equal sympathy for both sides of this "battle of the sexes", but it does appear Cukor slightly favors Hepburn. Either way, Adam's Rib is magical and truly funny from start to finish. This is a classic and the best collaboration of one of film history's most memorable on-screen duos.

October 25th Log

1974, Billy Wilder, United States

1st Viewing, DVD

Based on the original play by Ben Hecht (who is cleverly mentioned in a funny line of dialogue here) and made into several well known features (includes Howard Hawks classic screwball comedy His Girl Friday), The Front Page is one of the last films made by the great Billy Wilder. Most of the dialogue is rewritten by Wilder (one of the great screenwriter of film history), but most of the story remains. The material is well-suited for Wilder’s darkly cynical taste, a world that newspaper reporter inhabit themselves with. The film doesn’t always work, particularly in the middle, but Wilder’s sparkling dialogue keeps things going along at a highly entertaining and witty pace. And of course, with Wilder the ending is always classic, as again just as we think he has gone soft, Wilder hits the audience with his trademark cynical punchline to end the film. Another reason the film stays enjoyable throughout is the energetic chemistry of the cast, lead by the great duo of Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau, who have starred in over ten films together (including Wilder’s 1966 The Fortune Cookie). Matthau seems to especially be having fun in the more exaggerated role of the editor of the paper Walter Burns. Also making an appearance in one of her youngest roles is Susan Sarandon as Lemmon’s fiance Peggy Grant. Not quite the masterful level of Hawks film or even among Wilder’s greatest films, The Front Page is still a pretty good film.

2002, Todd Haynes, United States

Repeat Viewing, DVD

Todd Haynes 2002 film, Far From Heaven, is bold and involving. There is no question about the influences here: the 1950s Technicolor melodramas by Douglas Sirk (most notably All That Heaven Allows). Aside from capturing the look, emotions, sounds, feelings, and period details of the era, Haynes is essentially making the film has if it were the 1950s. What results is a work that that is not only deeply respectful of it's inspirations, but also gives more complex examination and in many ways is perhaps more authentic and more important, and more powerful. Todd Haynes has made a 1950s film without holding back the restrictions those films did at the time. Julianne Moore's performance is amazing. It's as if Moore (and the viewer) lose themselves in the character. Everything we see becomes and feels real. The supporting cast is equally wonderful, lead by the always reliable Dennis Quaid and Patricia Clarkson. This is a film of human feelings and behavior. It is a love story of two lost souls who relationship is doomed by a society and behavior of ignorance and hatred. The films greatest strength lies in the beautiful photography. The colors are so refreshing and it's as if they help tell the story without feeling staged. From the opening crane shot through the fall leaves, Far From Heaven is a flawless film of visual imagery. Every detail is finely designs from colors, locations, sets, and costumes. But above all this is a film of masterful compositions, which (like the themes of the film) hold endless layers and depth beneath the surface. There is such richness and patterned texture within every frame of the composition, which captured the expression of the film (often without the need of dialogue). This is filmmaking at it's most visually complex and artistic. The emotional style may seem a bit too melodramatic and dated to some viewers. However, those that appreciate the glorious cinematography, fine detailed sets and costumes, haunting score, and flawless directing and acting, will see it for what it is: A completely respectful, authentic and sometimes painful look at what life was really like back in "the good old days" that in so many ways really weren't all that great! Bottom line: a masterpiece film that will hit on all visual and emotion levels.

October 24th Log

2006, Gil Kenan, United States
1st Viewing, DVD

When Steven Spielberg and Robert Zemeckis are involved you know you are in for some great adventure, storytelling, and special effects. For the most part this digitally animated film delivers, but I was still left a little disappointed. I think the films problem is that it gears so much for it’s childhood audience that it leaves less of an impact on adults (something that isn’t very common from Spielberg). Not to say the film is unintelligent, but I think the second half rushes along so much that the wonder and imagination (as well as the transition from childhood to puberty) that the film establishes early on, quickly losses track during the final climatic moments after they enter the house, as the film seems more interested in dazzling audiences with spooky visual effects and sounds. The film is really at it’s best early on when dealing with the growth of adolescence and the sense of fairy-tale mystery and innocence of the children curiosity with the house. It is these opening moments that are reminiscent of the joyous imagination of Japanese master Hayao Miyazaki, but his films never leave focus on the artistic world of the characters (even in the most thrilling and adventurous moments). As I said, such is usually the case with Spielberg and Zemeckis who most often do not sacrifice effects for storytelling (but then again they are only the producers of this film, which obviously was a box office hit). Monster House is well made and the animation is very impressive. This is a good film for adults and children, but adults may be left with less interest towards the final act.

2006, Jared Hess, United States
1st Viewing, DVD

Jared Hess scored a big and wildly growing cult following with his 2004 debut Napoleon Dynamite. Here Hess blends his style with writer-comedian Mike White and Jack Black for a film that isn’t quite as funny as Hess debut, but is still very entertaining. Much of Hess’ oddball dry humor is again evident in Nacho Libre as well the sensible compassion both he and White have shown in their films. One of the charm this film is lacking that makes Napoleon Dynamite a more watchable film on repeat viewings is the characters. Here they are much more tied down to plot, where as Napoleon Dynamite’s lack of plot gave the characters a freer and untimely funnier depth. But of course, Jack Black is terrific and seemingly having lots of fun in the lead role. He always brings such a comedic energy and even when overdone (such as here) it still works. Nacho Libre has some conventions about that that don’t always work, but overall it’s entertaining, and as enjoyable as Black is I think the side characters of Hess’s film again shine brightest (even if not given as much freedom).

2001, Todd Field, United States
Repeat Viewing, Independent Film Channel

In preparing for the soon to be released Little Children (which features perhaps the best trailer I’ve seen all year), I decided to rewatch Todd Field’s acclaimed debut drama, 2001’s In the Bedroom. The film is moving on many levels (both in terms of filmmaking and emotional impact) and leaves the viewer with much to ponder and remember. Field presents the film in a mysterious emotional way through rhythmic pace and symbolic imagery. What it ultimately effects is the final moments which raises thought-provoking ideas upon the entire film (while also completely shifting the tone of the film without an ounce of forced melodrama). There are moments that are calm, and quite while exhilarating within a flash. In the Bedroom is essentially divided into a multiple character-study and the deteriorating grief of tragedy they are living with. This is the rhythmic flow that Field has so excellently created with this film. Of course one of the keys of the dramatic force is undeniably in the reliance of the performances, which are top-notch all the way. Field’s background began in acting and his sensible understanding of the dramatic performance is evident when watching him director these actors (Tom Wilkinson is particularly outstanding, especially in the previous mentioned conclusion of the film). This is really only the first time I’ve seen this film since it’s 2001 release, and I must say it left me with a greater impact. I like the enigmatic sense of direction Field gives this otherwise straight-forward drama (which examines depths of tragic loss, grief, and anger). In the Bedroom is a powerful film and a great feature filmmaking debut.

October 23rd Log

2006, Kevin Macdonald, United Kingdom
1st Viewing, Theater

The Last King of Scotland begins with a young Scottish doctor looking for adventure, who decides to spin a globe to decide where he will go. After first landing on Canada, he spins again and lands on the more exotic“ Uganda. So begins the film, which is said to be based on a true story and adapted from a novel by Giles Foden. This opening moment presents a key metaphoric message of the film, which ultimately uses the main character (Nicholas Garrigan, played by James McAvoy) as a metaphor. Films with metaphoric use of characters can often be forced, but this films strength is the wonderful intelligence it conveys. Using the terrifying real life figure of the evil, brutal, yet personally charming Ugandan dictator Idi Amin (played with brilliance by Forest Whitaker), the film blends the fictional character who represents a symbol of Western imperialism. A key moment comes when Amin tells Nicholas he has come to Africa to “play the savior white man”. It is this subtle understanding of ignorance and power that make The Last King of Scotland an intelligent and effective film (the script is co-written by Peter Morgan, who also wrote the highly insightful script of The Queen). Aided by a cast of solid performances (including the always under appreciated Kerry Washington- who needs to start getting some major roles in films!) The Last King of Scotland is a very well made film, particularly for it’s meaningful examinations underneath the surface of the story.

2006, Pen-Ek Ratanaruang, Thailand / Netherlands / Hong Kong

1st Viewing, DVD

Thai filmmaker Pen-Ek Ratanaruang re-teams with his Last Life in the Universe cinematographer Christopher Doyle in this disappointing. After showing some promising talent in his previous 2003 film (Last Life in the Universe) and even the charming 2001 comedy Transistor Love Story, Ratanaruang’s sixth feature film proves to be the work of an amateur. Invisible Waves is a highly disappointing film that will most likely get much more praise then it deserves. Using elements of film noir and the gangster genre, Invisible Waves is essentially poor storytelling disguised as art. One of the films biggest problems is the dull dialogue, which ultimately effects both the performances and the overall tone of the film. Doyle’s photography is undeniably gorgeous but the images are conveyed by a hollow film. Never is there any sense of connection of even disconnection with this film. No emotional involvement, or atmospheric feeling, the film is simply artificial both emotionally and visually. While I’ve criticized much Invisible Waves, I must admit it does have it’s qualities on a stylistic level. I just think the film is a disappointment because of the potential and the filmmakers involved. If you’re interested in Thai cinema, my suggestion is starting elsewhere, like Ratanaruang’s previous films or even more so I’d say to check out the work of Apichatpong Weerasethakul (Tropical Malady, Blissfully Yours), who is yet to disappoint.

October 21st Log

2006, Stephen Frears, United Kingdom / France / Italy
1st Viewing, Theater

Directed by versatile director Stephen Frears The Queen is a film that succeeds on many levels. Obviously the performance of the always reliable Helen Mirren as Elizabeth II is the driving center of the film. She is absolutely terrific and will undoubtedly be remembered during the awards season (I will go on record as saying she is a lock for at least an Oscar nomination as Best Actress). However, not to be overlooked is the wonderful script of this film (written by Peter Morgan), which delves into many insightful levels ranging from psychological, social, and political. The film uses archive events surrounding the death of Princess Diana as the new Prime Minister Tony Blair (solidly played by Michael Sheen) uses the mass media to mourn the “people’s princess”. Blair’s modernized methods contrast those of the royal family, who’s values are held much differently (and ultimately they lose the support of a grieving county). It is this generation divide that lies at the center of this film, which succeeds mostly in its impartial views. Blair is essentially left feeling sympathetic (or is it guilty) for the Queen, and even though she is forced to conform against her will, she never lets her belief and values change (even if her country has). The film examinations a new era of “global modernized”, and a society imprisoned or obsessed with celebrities and tabloids. The performances effortlessly capture the emotional essence and they deserve to be highly applauded, but the intelligence and awareness of the material, makes this an important and honest film.

1959, Otto Preminger, United States

Repeat Viewing, Turner Classic Movies

Anatomy of a Murder is not only one of (if not the!) greatest courtroom films ever made, it's also among the truly greatest films of all-time, period! There's just so much to love about this film. It's a film that was years ahead of it's time and remains fresh, and exciting today. Otto Preminger's direction is simply put, flawless. Even at 160 minutes, there is not a moment wasted (from the legendary Saul Bass' wonderful opening title design sequence through the "poetic justice", final shot of the high heel). There are many factors that Anatomy of a Murder such an engaging film, but none more then the jazz score of the genius Duke Ellington. Ellington is, to me, the greatest musical composer/songwriter of the 20th Century, and here he makes his landmark statement in cinema, with one of the most absorbingly beautiful scores in film history. The always brilliant James Stewart gives yet another memorable performance, as does George C Scott in the role of the prosecuting attorney. Together they display a fascinating display of intelligence, depth, chemistry, and alot of humor. There are some unforgettable, fast, and witty verbal exchanges that capture a comedic, an authentic, and a dramatic emotional response. Anatomy of a Murder often gets forgotten among the greatest films in American cinema, however it's timelessness and brilliance has proven it's certainly worthy of such recognition! Preminger was one of the pioneer filmmakers that put an end to the Studio Production Code and ultimately paved the way for the revolutionary young filmmakers who emerged in the 1960s and 70s. Anatomy of a Murder is one of the key films in Preminger’s fight to defeat the Production Code system. Indeed this film is “poetic justice for all”

1946, Charles Vidor, United States
Repeat Viewing, Turner Classic Movies

Turner Classic Movies followed up Anatomy of a Murder with another one of my all-time favorite studio classics, 1946’s Gilda starring one the most naturally beautiful actresses to ever grace the screen. Though it comes almost 20 minutes into the film, Rita Hayworth's first appearance on screen remains the embodiment of both the film and her wonderful career. It's a moment that is quite simple, but deeply effective in portraying one of cinema's most memorable screen beauties. The flirtatious look, beautiful smile, and of course gorgeous hair display everything we need to know about Gilda the character and Hayworth the "Love Goddess." There's never been and will never be another like her, and Gilda stands as one of her defining performances. It's easyto forget, but this film does have more qualities aside from Hayworth's energy and presence. The black and white cinematography is lusciously shot. Lighting and shadows are symbolically used throughout as a technique in paralleling good and evil. Director Charles Vidor finely directs a strong script, which actually involves heavy sexual undertones (both heterosexual and bisexual). Obviously Production Code limitations prevented the film from going as far as it could have. However, Gilda remains an effective melodramatic film noir romance that examines an unusual love and hate connection. But the undeniable force of the film is that of Hayworth's glamorous and unforgettable performance as the good bad girl. "Put the Blame on Mame!"

October 20th Log

2004, Yvan Attal, France
1st Viewing, DVD

“I know all.” Says the wife to her husband. It is said in a sarcastic tone that would seem to be joking (at least that is what her husband assumes). However, this moment reveals something more and it is one of the key elements of the film: the feelings we hide within. Of course the film is not concerned solely on this, because like human relationships it is much more complicated and complex. Happily Ever After is like director/actor Yvan Attal’s feature debut (My Wife Is an Actress) in its themes of marriage and sensitivities of human relationships. Again Attal recalls Woody Allen, but in a more realist style. Happily Ever After has some charming moments, most of which arise whenever Charlotte Gainsbourg graces the screen (she again plays the wife to her real-life husband Attal). Gainsbourg has recently become one of my favorite actresses and she is radiant once more here. The films title is an ironic one, but the film does not leave closure and is ultimately left open for cynical and possible even hopeful conclusions. I think the couple is in love, but they are also hiding their feelings and are longing for something else. As a whole, Happily Ever After may not be a flawless film, but in the moments it works, the film soars. Notably in the two scenes Gainsbourg shares with Johnny Depp (one without dialogue in a record store, and another dreamy moment in the films final sequence).

1949, Yasujiro Ozu, Japan
Repeat Viewing, DVD

It is Friday night so that could only mean one thing… Ozu, Ozu, Ozu!!! This is a tradition I started last month, and I think it will be one that I continue for a very long time. For this Friday I scheduled the film that is arguably Ozu’s most definitive masterpiece of the postwar era: 1949’s Late Spring. I have seen this film many times and will continue to revisit it throughout my lifetime, which it has deeply impacted. The film is so incredibly sad yet there is a peacefulness to it that makes it such a wonderful hopeful and beautiful film to me. Stylistically the film is nearly unparallel in terms of visual expression through compositions and space. The most simplistic and methods are applied, yet the films evolves into complex depths that few films can capture. Ozu is a master poet, a filmmaker with the most unique and definitive filmmaking style. His simplicity extends throughout the film and into the performances which I’d rate among the most emotionally effective in the history of cinema. Take the moving scene at the Noh play. This may be one of the single greatest moments in terms of performance in film, and it is expressed with the most subtle gestures and movements and without a single word of dialogue. You see everything in Setsuko Hara’s movements and when she drops her head, your heart breaks alongside hers. There is so much I could say about this film. I love it so much and would undoubtedly consider it among the most perfect films ever made!!

October 19th Log

1944, Vincente Minnelli, United States
Repeat Viewing, DVD

Ah, Meet Me in St. Louis!! To me, one of the richest and loveliest films in all of American cinema! Vincente Minnelli's classic is an impossible film to resist... for anyone! Really, it's hard to imagine anyone with a beating heart not finding something to enjoy. It's such a charming film that everyone can relate to and cherish. It's a film that is getting better with age. A truly classic and warm-hearted tale of family and loved ones. Judy Garland shines in perhaps her greatest screen performance. The musical numbers rate among the most memorable of all-time (featuring such classics as "The Trolley Song," "The Boy Next Door," "Skip To My Lou", and "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas"). Also, this is one of the earlier films which incorporate the musical sequences into the films narrative. While the plot line is thin, Meet Me In St Louis remains effective through rich characterization, beautiful music, great performances, and Minnelli's mastery of visual compositions, spaces, and colors. It's a beautiful film of the joys, and heartbreaks that can separate or disrupt, but ultimately reunite a family. There are countless scenes of wonder, laughter, and even sadness. The ending is perfect, and absolutely touching. Meet Me In St Louis is one of Hollywood's greatest musicals. A heartwarming, classic film for all to enjoy!

2002, Guillermo del Toro, United States / Germany
1st Viewing, DVD

As with most sequels, Blade 2 packs on a whole lot more action and twists. The 1998 feature was actually pretty good film and for the most part this one is equal and in many aspects better. Cinematically Blade 2 is a superior film and that may have something to do with it’s far more talented filmmaker Guillermo del Toro, who’s experience with genre fans have established a cult following. Del Toro does his best with a script (notably the poor dialogue) that is flawed and tedious. There is plenty of action, recalling many of the dazzling effects and choreographed fight sequences of the post-Matrix era. However, it was the original Blade film that came out a year prior to The Matrix so this series holds it’s own historic relevance). At the center of the films theme is an examination of fatherhood or more specifically powerful figures (and trusting in them). In the sequel Blade finds himself joining sides with the enemy in order to destroy a new breed of “vampires” that are destroying the world. They are almost a mix of vampire and zombie, which works well within the imagination of Del Toro, who’s filmography is most renowned for horror. Above all, Del Toro gives this series an exciting cinematic style through cinematography, settings, editing, and sound. I can’t say I enjoyed every element of this film, but Blade 2 is a successful Marvel comic adaptation that succeeds on all of the levels of solid genre filmmaking.

October 18th Log

1994, Lodge H. Kerrigan, United States

1st Viewing, DVD

Clean, Shaven is the debut feature film from Lodge Kerrigan. Like his 2004 film Keane, Clean Shaven is a film an emotionally involving one. The film centers around two main characters: a man suffering a mental illness who returns home and goes in search of his daughter, and a detective who is investing a murder. Eventually the two narratives intertwine and the film leaves the audience assuming the man is the murder throughout the film, but ultimately is never conclusive and left open for interpretation. Certainly doubt arises in both the detective and the specifically the audience in the final moments. Through experimental techniques and low-budget filmmaking this is a unique and at times very disturbing film (particularly for it’s notorious finger nail cutting scene). Rather then developing the story through plot details, the filmmaker focuses on the emotional level of the lead character (outstanding performed by Peter Greene) to progress the story (which is above all the relationship of a father and daughter, also very much like Kerrigan’s Keane). The other key device is progressing the story through the prominent and conscious use of sound in connection with specific images. Clean, Shaven is an deeply involving, strange, and unsettling film.

2005, Keith Beauchamp, United States
1st Viewing, DVD

The Untold Story of Emmett Louis Till is a film that holds a value for its importance and passionate filmmaking. Keith Beauchamp is a filmmaker determined to find justice and even though it has been over 50 years his 2005 documentary is moving closer to the goal. In fact, the facts and evidence found during the making of this film was enough to reopen the case. Through archive footage, eyewitness, and an emotionally touching interview with Till’s mother Mamie Till, the film details both the tragedy and ultimately the revolutionary impact. The specifically film becomes a reflection of the strength and will of Till’s mother who’s interview is the emotional core of this film. The film and Beauchamp’s resolve is a tribute to Emmett Louis Till and his families impact and importance in the American civil rights movement. However, closure has not been secured until there is some kind of justice. The march moves on.

1971, Jacques Tati, France / Italy
Repeat Viewing, DVD

After nearly going bankrupt on the making of his masterpiece 1967’s Playtime (which took over 10 years to make and suffered through a critical backlash), Jacques Tati had to conform against his perfectionist intentions in order to get another film financed. With Playtime, Tati wanted to put less of a focus on his trademark Hulot character. However, for financing reasons, Tati was forced to compromise. Trafic is a more conventional and less creative follow-up to Playtime, but still has the elegant and perhaps even more cynical personal touch of it’s filmmaker. The film follows Hulot on a trip from Paris to an auto show in Amsterdam. Of course on the way many comic and crazy develop and the film expresses Tati’s satirical themes of a chaotic society of everyday human behavior and obsessions. Through a masterful use of sound and visual expression (highlighted by Tati’s beautiful choreographed gags and compositions), Trafic becomes a wondrous and reflective comedy from a true genius of filmmaking. Even when not at the peak of creative freedom, a beautiful and hilarious little masterpiece emerges. The smallest details and subtle personal expressions within the layers of the film make repeat viewings even more enjoyable. This marked the last film made with the Hulot character, and Tati made only one more feature film (Parade in 1974). Despite only six feature films to his credit, to me Tati stands as one of cinemas very greatest filmmakers ever, and all of his films deserved to be embraced!!

October 17th Log

2001, Yvan Attal, France

1st Viewing, DVD

This is the feature directorial debut of actor Yvan Attal and any comparisons to Woody Allen is certainly justified in more ways then one. However, that is certainly not to discredit My Wife is an Actress as a film lacking in originality, but the true strength lies in it’s delightful cast and energetic chemistry. The film centers around Attal’s character who is obsessively jealous over his wife’s (played by the irresistible Charlotte Gainsbourg) career, most notably her love scenes (with other actors, such as Terrence Stamp). There is a realist sense of these characters and their lives that make this an appealing romantic comedy. Attal and Gainsbourg are real life husband and wife and the connection definitely is captured on screen. Perhaps the film even works as a reflection of Attal’s own personal absurd psychological state and his relationship with Gainsbourg (even the characters of the film are only referred to as Yvan and Charlotte). This, as well as Yvan’s depressive anxiety, insecurity, and obsessive behavior are undoubtedly reminiscent of Woody Allen’s own later-ego director-actor persona of his films. In thematic characterizations, and style (including the films wonderful jazz score), My Wife is an Actress has the feel of an Allen film made in France. The appeal of Gainsbourg is hat attracted me to see this film. Seeing her charming radiance in Science of Sleep encouraged me to seek out her previous films. She has a truly great presence on screen. While it may be difficult to view this film as romantic, it does capture a sense of humanity and relationships that is strangely romantic and essential. This is not a film for everyone, but I found it to be surprisingly sweet and charming from the beautiful opening titles (featuring old film star stills and jazz music) to the lovely final shot (a freeze frame reminiscent of something out of a 1960s Jean-Luc Godard film).

2006, Paul Weitz, United States
1st Viewing, DVD

I’m a very big fan of director Paul Weitz previous film, the highly underrated In Good Company and was disappointed I didn’t get a chance to see his latest film, American Dreamz, in the theater. Here Weitz is going for a more scathing satire on American politics and the media pop culture icon known as American Idol. It certainly doesn’t hide its aim and while a bit overbearing in message, the overall result of the film remains equally funny and enjoyable. In the end, the film takes a more light-hearted approach while still keeping a cynical edge. The material here is fairly familiar territory but the intelligent filmmaking and endearing performances help keep the film fresh and exciting throughout. I’m definitely a fan of Many Moore and Dennis Quaid and they are again solid here alongside a talented cast (Hugh Grant, Willem Dadoes, Marcia Gay Harden, and the underused combination of John Chow and Judy Greer). American Dreamz is not in the class of Network, a masterpiece satire of American media culture, but it is a good film.

October 16th Log

1999, Takashi Miike, Japan / South Korea
Repeat Viewing, DVD

I saw this film for the first time nearly a year ago and since I think I’ve seen it at least three more times. Audition begins as a calm and quiet story of a lonely widow father that resembles the work of the great Yasujiro Ozu... then the telephone rings and instantly the tone turns into on of a surreal display of horror and torture. I think there is a fine line to how successful these films can be, but Audition is masterful achievement in filmmaking and has inspired countless inspirations throughout the world (most of which are far inferior exploitation shock films). Directed by cult Japanese horror master, Takashi Miike, Audition is a masterpiece of genre filmmaking. Through Miike's atmospheric visuals (including beautifully composed cinematography, long static takes, color symbolism, etc) Audition becomes a blend of reality and dreams (or perhaps nightmares). There are plenty of shocks, twists, and uneasy gore here, yet what makes Audition so brilliant is the psychological and philosophical depth of Miike's visual atmosphere. The film has such an elegant innocence to it yet is contrasted by the terrifying chaos of the second half (expressed in a hauntingly composed shot where as the telephone rings the camera jerks and we are shown a close-up of a smile). This is perfectly captured through Miike's narrative structure and the memorable and very convincing performance of Eihi Shiina (as Asami). Ryo Ishibashi is also very good as Aoyama a lonely widow father who finally decides to move past his wife's death and find another woman. However, Aoyama is doomed the moment he calls Asami back and it is not for anything he has done, but rather because of Asami's inner-struggle with a haunting past. Ultimately, Audition is a film that examines a psychotic rebellion against the conforming role of woman within the Japanese culture. Surreal, absorbing, gruesome, terrifying, and mysterious Audition remains an unforgettable film and I believe Miike's greatest achievement as a filmmaker.


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