Thursday, November 16, 2006

November Archives #1

November 16th Log

1936, William Wyler, United States
Repeat Viewing, Turner Classic Movies

"I have to take care of her. A man's habits get pretty strong in 20 years." Ah what a wonderful film this is! Classic and magical filmmaking indeed. William Wyler is among Hollywood's finest filmmakers of all-time, and to me, this ranks only behind his 1946 masterpiece, The Best Years Of Our Lives. Among other things, Wyler mastered working with actors, and as such, his films always displayed brilliant performances. Dodsworth is no exception, as all the actors are fabulous. But most notable is Walter Huston as Sam Dodsworth. Houston gives his character honesty, charisma, and depth in one of American cinema's all-time great performances. The script and psychological character examinations are fascinating and quiet ahead of it's time. There are endless depths and themes to be found within the film (marriage relationships, jealousy, youth, unwillingness to change, personal identity, ignorance, and selfishness). The ending is such a lovely and perfect moment. Dodsworth is an absolutely unforgettable, timeless, and flawless film that should be placed among the greatest of the 1930's. "He's gone ashore. He's gone ashore."

November 15th Log

1948, Carol Reed, United Kingdom

1st Viewing, DVD

Carol Reed seems to be a forgotten or under appreciated filmmaker. His most acclaimed film, The Third Man, is often praised for its strong Orson Welles influence and involvement. His greatest masterpiece Odd Man Out (made two years before The Third Man), is generally overshadowed. In between those two films Reed made a film that seems to be forgotten all together. That is until the newly released Criterion Collection DVD brought this film back to life (which was nominated for Best Director and Best Screenplay Oscars). Fallen Idol is minor in comparison to the landmark status of The Third Man, but it remains significant none the less. It is significant in British cinema and most notably Reed’s career as his first collaboration with writer Graham Greene, whom he would collaborate with on two of his most highly acclaimed features (The Third Man, and One Man in Havana). Though in much simpler terms (the film is based of a short story by Green), The Fallen Idol deals a with themes of morality and of gaining growth, and knowledge through experience Reed would examine throughout his filmography (both before and after). Reed’s trademark camera techniques and angles are again evident here. Most of the film is through the young boys perspective and as such Reed keeps the camera low. The film is less successful in its suspense and becomes a bit less interesting in the whodunit final act. The Fallen Idol is still a worthy film. It is especially worth seeing for those familiar with Reed’s more cherished classics.

2001, Tsai Ming-liang, Taiwan / France
Repeat Viewing, DVD

I decided to rewatch one of my all-time favorite films: Tsai Ming-liang's 2001, What Time Is It There? is a masterpiece of pure brilliance. As original, exciting, and beautiful a film can possibly get. As with all of Tsai's films the camera consists of long, extended takes and isolated framing to enhance the alienation of the characters as well as create a claustrophobic atmosphere. There are also many moments of dialogue free silence. Tsai wants the viewer to absorb the film, to participate in it, and emphasize with the characters situations and emotions. It truly creates a challenging and thus a deeply rewarding cinematic experience. There are so many levels, meanings, and recurring themes ranging from separation, loss, loneliness, but it's ultimately about humanities connection and coincidence both with each other and between the living and dead. It's a calm, sometimes humorous, and always poetic film of the human soul's longing for love. The lovely (and mysterious) ending quietly arrives as the three main characters are shown sleeping and alone after having just failed to emotionally or sexually communicate. The final shot can be interpreted several different ways, but ultimately represents one of the films themes (the connection of the dead and living). To me, this film is unbelievably powerful and haunting. It's images beautiful and few films capture loneliness more effectively. Tsai is truly a genius and gifted filmmaker, and this may be his finest masterpiece. What Time Is It There is an absolute work of art, and among my all-time favorite films!

2003, Victor Salva, United States
1st Viewing, DVD

I’m a big fan of the 2001 original Jeepers Creepers film, which from its brilliant opening scene seemed to be a throw back to the old-fashion style of genre filmmaking. What made the film effective was several key factors: first the filmmakers left much to the imagination, secondly they did an outstanding job at playing with rhythm, and most importantly the film built an involving connection with the characters (a compassionate brother and a sister relationship). With this sequel writer-director Victor Salva seems to abandon all the factors that made the original such a surprisingly good film. The sequel begins where the original left off (except without the previous cast- though Justin Long makes a cameo in a dream sequence) and now Salva informs the audience that the monster only strikes for 23 days every 23 years. The film begins on the 22nd day, with an impressively made opening sequence in a corn field. There are plenty of cliches to the film and the really get revealed throughout the course of the film on a school bus of basketball players and cheerleaders. I really can’t say this is a bad film by any means, but it lacks the cleverness, excitement, humor, strong performances, and emotional involvement of the original. But Salva does generate some pretty good suspense here, even if it does come at the expense of more images of gore and of the monster (perhaps the result of a higher budget). While the characters are far less interesting, this sequel does a fine job of creating thrills through claustrophobia and a battle of survival. Jeepers Creepers 2 is not in the class of its original, but I’d still say it is a solid film on a level of genre filmmaking.

November 14th Log

1948, John Ford, United States
1st Viewing, Turner Classic Movies

"There's no question of honor between an American solider and Cochise. There is to me sir." I’ve always respected John Ford but I admit to never appreciating him as much as he is acclaimed (as he is commonly referred to as the greatest American filmmaker of all-time). However, much of that is the simple fact that I have neglected to see many of his films. Well, this month I’ve been watching as well as rewatching many of his films and I think beginning to see what I’ve missed. Fort Apache is the first film of what is referred to as John Ford’s “Calvary Trilogy’. Like the third Calvary film (Fort Apache) I was absolutely blown away by the power of this film. Made in 1948, Fort Apache is the era in which Ford would emerge as his own individual artist. Though he made some earlier masterpieces (The Grapes of Wrath, My Darling Clementine, Young Mr. Lincoln), Fort Apache established Ford’s movement into his quintessential vision as an artist working without regard for the studio system. Fort Apache is definitive John Ford mastery. Here he puts the overall narrative plot in the backdrop of his mythical world, one in which characters and landscape are poetically absorbed into traditions, conflicts, and morals. At the center lies the tension of the films protagonists (Henry Fonda as the Lt Colonel and John Wayne as the solider). Fonda also feuds with a Lieutenant who is in love with his daughter (played by Shirley Temple). Ultimately the film explores one of Ford’s most trademark expressions of leadership and the very basis and values of the leader. Also the film details (particularly in its final moments) Ford’s long-standing examination into a theme of “When the legend becomes fact, print the legend”. He later defined this in ironic detail with perhaps his greatest masterpiece, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. Of course, Fort Apache express many different themes and in variety of ways (be it with humor, action, adventure). Fort Apache is a film of mythical wonder. John Ford has masterfully created a universe, and one that is full of artistic expression. With it’s rich characters, stunning visual landscapes, flawless staging and compositions, and a beautifully moving way of capturing American rituals and traditions, Fort Apache stands as one of Ford most quintessential and artistic works.

2004, Hong Sang-soo, South Korea / France
Repeat Viewing, DVD

Even if his films don’t always work, Korean filmmaker Hong Sang-soo is one of the most interesting filmmakers in contemporary world cinema. Through his trademark naturalistic style, Hong strips the film of unneeded techniques to reveal the deeper layers of human truth. He creates an other-worldliness through characters emotional state of disconnection and his quintessential theme of identity and relationships. Ultimately this film (Hong’s 5th feature) is a reflective one that demands repeat viewings. Woman is the Future of Man is such a mysterious film and the mystery is generated through Hong’s modest style and outright narrative structure. While still exploring with boundaries, Woman is the Future of Man is the most straight-forward narrative film I’ve seen from Hong (at least of the four features I have seen to date). The film centers around the story of two men who ponder their relationship with the same woman. Hong uses his common element of loveless sex and lots of alcohol to express the emotional and psychological confusion of human relationships. Aiding this expression are naturalistic performances (by Sung Hyunah as the woman, and Yoo Jitae and Kim Taewoo as the two men), as well as Hong’s un-dramatic yet bittersweet sadness and complex emotion. Even after a repeat viewing, I was left with a feeling of mystery and doubt, but (like all the Hong films I’ve seen) still fascinated. Later this week and I plan on exploring Hong’s work further with a 1st viewing of his newest feature Woman on the Beach.

November 13th Log

2003, Iciar Bollain, Spain
1st Viewing, DVD

Take My Eyes opens with a woman in panic who is packing up and leaving her house with her son so quickly that she forgets to change her slippers for shoes. When she arrives at her sisters, she blames herself. Later we discover she has left the house to escape her violent husband. Take My Eyes does an effective job at subtly telling an emotionally involving story and also quietly building a great sense of tension. The film really becomes interesting as when it asks the viewer to sympathize (at least a little bit) with the husband as he tries to get help for his violent tendencies. What makes the film so emotionally complex is that it avoids cliches of characterizations. It is not presented simply as the wife being weak and the husband violent individuals, but the film explores deeper psychological emotions. It is all presented in a subtle style with an emotional atmosphere of doom and uncertainty. The lead performances (by Laia Marull and Luis Tosar) are terrific, but the real strength of this film is the script. Take My Eyes was the Best Picture winner at the Goya Awards (Spain’s Academy Awards) and you can certainly see the appeal in this moving and intense film.

2005, Hou Hsiao Hsien, Taiwan / France

Repeat Viewing, DVD

I saw this film for the first time back in February and have probably watched it an additional five or six times since then. Three Times remains my very favorite film of 2006 (Officially it was released in 2005, but did not reach America until this year)!! Three Times is a masterpiece of filmmaking and I believe rates among Hou Hsiao-hsien's very greatest cinematic achievements. In many ways, Three Times is like a collection of Hou's previous work. The film is structured as three unlinking stories featuring the same two actors (Chang Chen and the lovely Shu Qi) during three different time periods of Taiwan (1966, 1911, 2005). Each segment is not connected in terms of narrative, but each share similar linking themes of romantic relationships. Each segment stands brilliant and as a whole the film is a masterwork, but to me it is the first segment ("A Time for Love"- 1966) that is truly brilliant. Through simplistic and minimal techniques, Hou recalls his early work of young love and everyday living. There is also a sense of nostalgia, longing and atmosphere that transcend the film into one of feeling and is undeniably reminiscent of Wong Kar Wai's romantic longing. The second segment ("A Time for Freedom"- 1911) is presented as a silent film (moody music, titles cards and all!) and very much recalls Hou's 1998 film Flowers of Shanghai in that it takes place within a brothel. This is a daring and effective approach by Hou, who respectfully isn't attempting to remake a silent film, but rather uses the emotional power silent cinema creates. The claustrophobic visuals and sexual and political themes also recall Hou's earlier film. The final segment ("A Time for Youth"- 2005) captures a combination of Hou's Goodbye South, Goodbye (including the motorcycle rides through the city) and Millennium Mambo (including the endless smoking from Shu Qi) in examining the disconnected and alienated modern day youth. Through un-communicatingrelationships and loneliness, Hou is essentially detailing a poetic view of modern-day Taiwan in contrast to a time that is lost and needs to be held onto. Three Times is an important film from a very important filmmaker. Hou has created a deeply moving and thought-provoking film that examinations important issues of Taiwan and it's history, as well as human relationships and connection (or disconnection). The film is also a political one as the disconnecting relationships is very reflective of the historical relationship between mainland China and Taiwan. Three Times is a film to cherish, to revisit, and to remember.

November 11th Log

2006, Ryan Murphy, United States
1st Viewing, Theater

Running With Scissors opens with a voice narration telling you that everything you are about to see is based on real memoir and that we probably won’t believe any of it. What this does is setup the film, which is essentially an over-the-top film that seems to be trying to shock and out-due anything you have seen before in a film. Ultimately, however, there is little originality on the level this aims for. If the film scaled down and was a bit simpler (even in the most quirky of moments) it could have been a whole lot more effective and undoubtedly funnier. Running With Scissors is written for the screen and directed by Ryan Murphy in his feature debut, and he shows some inexperience particularly with comedic timing. There is some great music here (i.e. Elton John’s 'Bennie and the Jets'), but it is not always used as distinctly as it could be (plus the film takes on the challenging task of using Nat King Cole’s 'Quizas, Quizas, Quizas', a song forever linked in cinema memory for it’s use in Wong Kar-Wai’s masterpiece In the Mood For Love). However, the film does have its moments usually created from the outstanding ensemble cast of very talented performers (Annette Bening, Brian Cox, Gwyneth Paltrow, Alec Baldwin, Evan Rachel Wood, Jill Clayburgh, Joseph Fiennes). Cox is especially good in the films most successfully satiric role. The performances really keep the film from falling apart. Running With Scissors is an average dysfunctional family film disguised as something unique and deeper then anything else we’ve seen.

1940, John Ford, United States

Repeat Viewing, DVD

"I'll be everywhere. Wherever you can look. Wherever there's a fight, so hungry people can eat, I'll be there." The Grapes of Wrath is perfect in every sense of filmmaking. One of the very greatest novel adaptations put on film, this is a true classic in American film history. John Ford's direction is flawless and brilliantly collaborates with Gregg Toland master display of deep focus cinematography and lightning. Being adapted from a classic novel, The Grapes of Wrath may not be the definitive John Ford film, yet he makes it such with some of the most remarkable cinematic moments ever captured on film. The images in this film are absolutely breathtaking and rate among the most memorable and most powerful of all-time (Tom Joad returning home, Tom and Casey with the candle light, Ma with the earring in the mirror, the Joads entering the camp, Ma and Tom dancing, Tom leaving, etc). The Grapes of Wrath is a work of visual and emotional beauty. It's a poetic film that is caring yet deeply sad, yet ultimately hopeful. The performances are terrific. The great Henry Fonda gives one of the all-time greatest performances in film history as Tom Joad, and Jane Darwell is wonderful as Ma Joad (particularly at the touching sequence in which she reflects on memories. The shot when she looks into the mirror with the earrings is one of the very finest moments of acting, directing, and cinematography ever made). John Ford is often considered one of American films most important filmmakers, and while he's made some other great films, I'd personally consider this his greatest. A classic masterpiece of history that will live forever. "We'll go on forever. Cause we're the people."

November 10th Log

2006, Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, United States / Mexico

1st Viewing, Theater

Babel is the third feature from director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu. Each of them have been collaborated with his screenwriter Guillermo Arriaga, and Babel is said to be part of an unconnected thematic trilogy (with 21 Grams and their debut feature Amores Perros). All three films deal with human morality and the intersecting connection of lives through an accidental tragedy. Babel is undoubtedly their most ambitious, but unfortunately their most flawed film. That is not to say it is not an involving emotional experience, which much like 21 Grams and Amores Perros, Babel certainly is. Inarritu has such an ability of capturing intense human emotions and behaviors. I think one of the problems of the film is that the scope of the film is so grand that the smaller more intimate moments (which are deeply striking) become less gripping. This is a film that works better in moments then it does as a completed whole. Taking on a journey of human despair and suffering, the film can be difficult to withstand. Like their previous films, Babel interconnects several storylines (in Morocco, in the United States/Mexico, and another in Japan). You have to applaud the ambitiousness and while a wonderfully made and acted film, some contrives do emerge in order to bring the epic-scaled narrative focus and morality into the overall themes and thought-provoking ideas. To generate these ideas Babel mostly uses suffering as is aim, which makes for difficult experience. Babel’s primary exploration is of violence, misunderstanding caused through language or communication (and miscommunication). Inarritu does have a great sense of understanding and hope in humanity and this is captured in Babel’s most remarkable moments. To me the Morocco story is most effective in both its themes and humanity (particularly in the sad yet honest way it explores the “advantages” of Americans, but especially wonderful is the authentic compassion of the towns people, who gain nothing out of their selflessness). Babel’s other strength lies with a terrific cast of performances. Of course, I love Cate Blanchett (maybe more then anyone else in film today) and she is very good in a minor role which has her endlessly bleeding and fighting for her life the entire film. The incredibly gifted and versatile Gael Garcia Bernal gives one of the standout performances of the film, but capable veterans Brad Pitt, Adriana Barraza, and Koji Yakusho are also solid, as is newcomer Rinko Kikuchi in the role of a deaf mute. Babel is an emotionally intense and gripping film with moments that are masterful. As a whole, Arriaga’s script is a bit contrived and Inarritu’s grand scale a bit unfocused for Babel to be considered among the class of their two previous collaborations. To me, Babel is a good film with some great moments. I will look forward to seeing what direction these filmmakers go next, and would particularly like to see Inarritu direct a script outside of Arriaga.

1937, Yasujiro Ozu, Japan
Repeat Viewing, DVD

What Did the Lady Forget is a joy of a film from Ozu. His earliest influence as a filmmaker was from the West and while this is evident in much of his earliest silent films it may be most prominent in this early talkie. The film is a social satire of the upper class and it even mixes in elements of screwball comedy. The great German-American filmmaker Ernst Lubitsch (known for his "Lubitsch touch') seems to be an influence here. Ultimately this is Ozu at his most lighthearted and charming. This film does not express the human condition as powerfully as his previous film (his first talkie The Only Son), but even if on a lighter emotional level, there is still an honesty on insight of marital relationships. It is often overlooked, but Ozu is a genuine comedian filmmaker who began in comedy. Having developed through the silent era, he has a masterful skill with visual comedy. What Did the Lady Forget is a wonderful comedy highlight by terrific performances. This may not be the most significant film Ozu made, but it is among his most endlessly watchable and endearing comedies.

November 9th Log

1990, Alexander Sokurov, Russia
1st Viewing, DVD

The Second Circle is not a film for everyone, but those who have seen the work of Russian filmmaker Alexander Sokurov will know what to expect. Sokurov’s bare content and slow pace can occasionally be a dull experience, and while this film boarders the line the overall meditative and spiritual presence make this a rather intense cinematic journey. Of course the film demands the viewer to be involved within it, but if you are willing it can be a deeply effective experience. Sokurov’s incredibly long takes and slow style can actually be quite intense here. There is very little dialogue and maybe even less cuts, as the film absorbs the viewer in a way that takes on deeper levels of thought and interpretation. The films opening moments are very revealing as it begins with a shot of a man isolated within a windy storm of nature followed by (after the opening titles) symbol of the inevitability of death (the man’s father). I think the film take son many levels, but essentially believe it to be one of loneliness amongst nature and spirituality. I would say of five Sokurov films I have now seen, The Second Circle (along with Mother and Son) rates as my favorite.

1939, H.C. Potter, United States

1st Viewing, DVD

Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers starred in a total of 10 films together, and they remain one of the greatest duos in the history of Hollywood. Nine of the ten films they starred in together were made in the 1930s with The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle being the last of the decade. In fact it essentially marked the end of the on-screen relationship as their next and last collaboration would not come again until ten years later with 1949’s The Barkleys of Broadway which was made at MGM Studios. The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle was one of the least success Astaire and Rogers films at the box office, and Rogers expressed a desire to distant herself from dancing and musicals and wanted to focus on more dramatic roles. After this film, RKO Studios (who made all the Astaire-Rogers films of the 1930s) gave Rogers her wish and it eventually resulted in a Best Actress Oscar in 1941 (for Kitty Foyle). However some of her dramatic roots even began to show here in this film, as this is perhaps the most serious of all the Astaire and Rogers films. The film is based on a true story, but that is less significant in terms of qualities of the film. However, parallels of Vernon and Irene Castle can certainly be made with Astaire and Rogers in the way they define elegance, grace, and style. Truly a duo worth remembering. The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle is another wonderful film from this lovely duo. Warm, romantic, and highly sophisticated this film will win you over like all of their films do. I would not put this among the class of their very best, but The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle is very enjoyable film. The final shot is a magically enchanting image of one of the greatest on-screen collaborations ever!

1949, King Vidor, United States
1st Viewing, DVD

The Fountainhead was a notorious critical and box office flop upon its 1949 release. Today the film has found a cult audience and it has become a “camp classic”. Well campy the film certainly is and you can see how its unique style and approach could be overlooked or ahead of it’s time. The film is based off a widely popular novel and perhaps that has something to do with the backlash of the film at the time (even though the screenplay is adapted by the books writer Ayn Rand). The literary material does seem very complex and difficult to adapt, but to me the most remarkable aspect of the film is the expressionist style created by director King Vidor. Made near the end of his acclaimed career, Vidor gives the film adapted a personal and cinematic touch (with the help of the great composer Max Steiner and cinematographer Robert Burks). The campiness of the film is generated from its blend of melodrama and philosophical depth. At the core of the film lies a complex examination of individualism and the integrity of the artist. Ironic, philosophical, and metaphoric The Fountainhead is one that speaks of individuality against all resistance. Through Vidor’s grand visual style the film creates a deeply absorbing and even sexual tension. The always terrific Gary Cooper gives a solid low-key lead performance, and it is perfectly supported by a radiant young Patricia Neal, who in her big screen debut here, seems to be representing a sexual undertone of the entire film. The Fountainhead is truly a rare film because few are made like it today or even were made like it in the 1940s.

November 8th Log

1991, Alfonso Cuaron, Mexico
1st Viewing, DVD

Before reaching international acclaim with the wonderful and widely popular 2001 hit Y tu mama tambien, Alfonso Cuaron was well regarded in Mexico for his 1991 debut feature Solo con tu pareja (Love in the Time of Hysteria). This film has never been released in the United States, until a recent DVD release from the Criterion Collection. Having seen (and loved!) all of Cuaron’s five features since, getting an opportunity to see this was a real treat. The result is a hidden gem of a film that captures the essence of Cuaron’s filmmaking. I often compare him to a modern-day Francois Truffaut for his humanist and social views, and the ability to blend style and compassion as well as capture youth and adolescence. While not on the masterpiece level of Y tu mama tambien, Solo con tu pareja shares much of its charming appeal and humor. The pace and style of the film is relentless, but in a way that is engaging and sexy. Cuaron again mixes sex and politics in subtle and light manner. Ultimately Solo con tu pareja examines sexual behaviors, desires, and consequences. The film was banned for several years in Mexico for its content on the growing AIDS crisis. Above all, Solo con tu pareja is a lot of fun and laughs while also an intelligent film of humanity and morals. Cuaron is a highly gifted filmmaker who through characters, script, and visuals can be equally powerful and funny. I believe him to be among the most interesting directors of his era, and Solo con tu pareja certainly expresses his earliest developments as a filmmaker. He has grown and improved since this debut, but Solo con tu pareja is a wonderful and enjoyable film on many levels. I look forward to revisiting this and many of Cuaron’s upcoming films (including this years Children of Men) in the future. He is a great talent!

2006, John Lasseter / Joe Ranft, United States

1st Viewing, DVD

The latest film from Pixar is another wonderful film of humor, incredibly inventive animation, and great storytelling. Directed by Pixar VP John Lasseter (who also did the Tory Story films and A Bug’s Life), Cars is further proof of Pixar’s reliable consistency in animation filmmaking. The strength is again in the wonderful characters, who even if two dimensional (or even automobiles), they each share something very genuine. The film is said to be a deeply personal one for Lasseter and perhaps that explains the films surprising 2-hour running time. The opening moments of setup are a little uninspiring and blatantly commercial driven for a Pixar film, but once Lightning McQueen arrives is the deserted desert town of Radiator Springs, the film becomes much more engaging (notably because of the various charcters- who are basically stereotypes, but still enjoyable). Cars is a film that speaks of kindness, care, and unselfishness. The heart of the film is ultimately just to slow down and enjoy life’s little pleasures and beauty. Helping capture this beauty is some breathtaking animated scenery of desert landscapes that would make John Ford proud. For all it’s wide appeal and commercial approach, Cars is essentially an old-fashion film with heart. It was a much better film then I was expecting simply because I thought the appeal would be for car or Nascar fanatics. Pixar continues to succeed on this level of filmmaking, and while I would not put this in the class of Monsters Inc or The Incredibles, Cars remains another highly appealing film.

November 7th Log

2006, Larry Charles, United States

1st Viewing, Theater

Borat (or as the full title goes Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan) is a film picking up all kinds of buzz for both it’s controversy and it hilarious comedy. When you see advertisements, such as the promotion trailer in which Entertainment Weekly debates whether or not it is the funniest movie ever, you have to wonder if such praise can effect the film (be it good or bad). Well I’m not really sure, but I do think Borat is a very funny film and in fact probably surpassed my expectations even after the media hype. I’m not calling this the funniest movie ever, but such a claim is ridiculous anyway (no matter what film it is referring to). There really is very little plot to this film, but perhaps that is where the charm comes from. In his first real cinematic showcase Sacha Baron Cohen shows a real talent for comedy as he takes offensive, gross-out humor to a new level of political and social satire. From the opening moments in Kazakhstan, Borat is stupid, yet ultimately genuinely intelligent in its meaningful explorations of world and national culture (and how different, yet how surprisingly alike they can be). Even though much of the films humor is generated through Kazakhstan and its culture, there is also a sense of capturing American ignorance and misunderstanding that make Borat such a clever film.

2006 (1971), Peter Bogdanovich, United States
1st Viewing, Turner Classic Movies

Directed by John Ford was a documentary made by Peter Bogdanovich in 1971 for the American Film Institute’s presentation of the Lifetime Achievement Award for John Ford. A documentary on the life and films of John Ford, Bogdanovich (a former film critic) had planned to release it to theaters. However, licensing of the film clips prevented distribution. Until now, as Turner Classic Movies has helped revised the film and Bogdanovich restored a new version with added scenes, interviews, and clips. Really seeing this on Turner Classic Movies is one of the reasons I’ve made Ford my own choice for director of the month and I will be seeing and revisiting many of his films throughout November. Directed by John Ford is a wonderful documentary. It’s a great tribute to a legend and to filmmaking itself. It is made rather simply by Bogdanovich, who lets the interviews and clips speak for itself. The film is most interesting because of the people Bogdanovich interviews: John Wayne, Maureen O’Hara, Henry Fonda, James Stewart, Martin Scorsese, Steven Spielberg, Clint Eastwood, and best of all Ford himself). The film is also narrated by Orson Welles (from the 1971 original version) and he opens by asking, “Directed by John Ford: What does that really mean?” Ford is one of the most respected directors among fellow directors throughout the world so it was a joy hearing others discuss what his films have meant to them. He is undoubtedly one of the most important figures in all of filmmaking and as deeply respected and beloved as he is throughout the world of cinema, Ford’s may still be undervalued. I know I’ve undervalued the beauty of his work, and this documentary as well as the films I’ve watched and plan on watching this month has me remembering what a great master he was.

1939, John Ford, United States
Repeat Viewing, Turner Classic Movies

Turner Classic Movies follow-up the documentary with one of Ford’s most acclaimed films, 1939 Stagecoach. Stagecoach is a film that holds more value for its importance then its quality. That is not to say the film is poor, but I do think it is one of Ford’s more overrated and dated films (along with The Informer). But there are some excellent qualities to this film, mostly the impact it generated within the western genre. Not only was Stagecoach was of the first Westerns to earn critical and audience acclaim, it also marked some rarities of the Western. Here is a film that dealt with characters in a more complex and genuine manner. Characters who are human in that they have equal flaws and weaknesses. There is a great sense of mythical wonder that is more fully expressed in Ford’s greatest films, but it is evident here. As is Ford’s trademark vast location (Monument Valley) and quintessential actor (John Wayne, in a role that may be his breakout into stardom). The performances are strong and Ford’s direction is outstanding as always, but the films weakness is the script. Ford was always able to get the best out of any script and he does so again with Stagecoach, particularly in the simpler, dialogue free moments (his introduction to Wayne’s character is especially a memorable moment). Stagecoach is an old-fashioned film with a defining vision of characters and storytelling. Ford would go on to make better Westerns, but Stagecoach rates among his most significant and influential.

November 6th Log

1952, John Ford, United States
1st Viewing, DVD

The Quiet Man is often referred to as one of John Ford’s most beloved films (he won his forth and final Best Director Oscar). Unfortunately it has remained unseen by me until today. While I prefer many other Ford classics, I can see the appeal here. It’s a film that is especially appealing to the Irish, as Ford captures the essence of the Irish culture with his trademark mythical and poetic style. Featuring a cast that includes the reuniting of John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara, who first starred together in Ford’s previous film Rio Grande. They have great chemistry even (or maybe particularly) when arguing with each other, and they are especially good in two of the films most memorable moments (O’Hara slapping Wayne in the face, and of course the final scene when she whispers into his ear). As good as Wayne and O’Hara (who’s featuring dyed red hair), the highlight of the film may be the beautiful Ireland landscapes. Prominently featured with vibrant colors (most notably green, which seems to cover every frame) The Quiet Man is a visually stunning film. It is a film that still holds up well and can appeal to all audiences for it’s wide range of comedy, drama, romance, and epic scale.

November 4th Log

1950, John Ford, United States
1st Viewing, DVD

Rio Grande is the third and final film of John Ford’s “cavalry trilogy’, and it also marks one of the pivotal works into his emergence as an individual artist outside the studio. Though Rio Grande was made within the studio, Ford (as he was able to do with many of his greatest films) worked within the conventions to create his own personal vision of artists filmmaking. Rio Grande is a film that is so carefully and beautifully made and one in which the small moments truly shine. As often with Ford, who was a visual poet, the most subtle moments can be the most impacting of the film (I loved the shot of John Wayne peeking into the window at his son). It is these Ford moments that capture all it’s expression through visuals alone. Of course Ford’s mastery as a storyteller is never lost, and Rio Grande has something for everyone to enjoy- action, romance, comedy, and a great cast of many Ford-regulars). This is the first of many collaborations between Maureen O’Hara and John Wayne, who would also star in Ford’s next film The Quiet Man. Rio Grande features many of Ford’s themes on honor, and courage. However, the emotional core of the film is the contrasting of patriotic duty and family responsibility. This is where the strength of the film lies and in the hands a of great filmmaker Rio Grande becomes a wonderful film. I can’t say the film is as flawless as some of Ford’s very greatest masterworks, but this remains a great film in it’s own right.

1935, John Ford, United States
1st Viewing, DVD

One of the earliest acclaimed films of legendary John Ford’s career was 1935’s The Informer, which is often referred to among his best films. While groundbreaking and definitely an early indication of a master filmmaker, I’d put The Informer among his more overrated works. Of course that is not to say this is a bad film, because it really isn’t at all. As early as the opening shot (a man’s shadow isolated on a wall), Ford’s influence is very evident here, as he is using many of the techniques and style he learned from the masters of German expression (notably Fritz Lang and especially F.W. Murnau, who’s 1927 masterwork Sunrise is clearly an influence). The Informer is not a western, but it is also a change of pace for Ford in it’s visual atmosphere as here Ford compresses the visual landscape to generate a claustrophobic atmosphere. This is really effect within the context of the film which is essentially centered around the psychological state of the character. Like Murnau, this is all captured through visuals and the use of expressive imagery (shadows, lighting, super imposed images, tracking shots). Ford also uses fog as a symbolic expression of the characters psychological state. The films flaws are when it goes away from this psychological atmosphere with less intriguing scenes of a group of rebels searching for the informant and then holding an underground court session to decide. When centered around the psychological state of the lead (slightly overplayed by Victor McLaglen), The Informer is an expressive and remarkable achievement of mood (also highlighted by a great Max Steiner score). The Informer won Ford is first of four Best Director Academy Awards and even though I believe he has made far more quintessential and complete works, this remains an important achievement within his acclaimed filmography.

2006, Takashi Miike, Japan / United States
1st Viewing, DVD

Of the Masters of Horror film series from Showtime, the film by Japanese cult filmmakers Takashi Miike has to be one of the most highly anticipated. Adding to the hype is the fact that the Miike’s episode was deemed unsuitable for television audiences and that it was banned and only put out on DVD. One thing you can always be assured of with Miike is that he is not going to ever let up, and the reputation certainly holds up here, and maybe even with more shock then you’d expect. Imprint takes some time to develop and build atmosphere (a Miike trademark) but when it gets going Miike plays it all out there. The results are mixed to me, but again you must admire Miike’s ambition as a horror filmmaker. Even when he shocks and disgusts audiences, his films usually examine a deeper social level of exploitation itself, by using the exploitation as a means of shock. His greatest work is built through atmosphere, and while Imprint does build a visually intense atmosphere, Miike losses track of the films overall focus and seems more intent on sock value. Everything doesn’t always make sense, but just when you think you understand, Miike throws something else out that to make the film even more ambivalent (notably in the film moment of the film, which could be interrupted in many different ways, including the possibility of the entire film being a hallucination). There are some disturbing images here (even for Miike standards) and I think the Showtime ban is understandable when watching the film. Overall, I’d put it among the better class of the Master of Horror series that I have seen, but I still find the film a bit disappointing on the level I was expecting from Miike. His fans will be satisfied with his English-language debut film and Miike is trying to say something here, but you have to wonder if he is trying to say too much.

November 3rd Log

2006, David Leaf / John Scheinfeld, United States
1st Viewing, Theater

“Well, it’s like they say, time wounds all heals.” The U.S. vs John Lennon is a film with several objectives in mind. Among them (though hidden with the context) is a reflective documentary that uses the cultural revolution of John Lennon against the American government with parallels of the current administration. However (with the exception of one interviewee mentioning George Bush), this documentary wisely never makes direct connection to any current situation. The film mostly documents Lennon’s post-Beatles ear, when he became a revolutionist for peace (of which President Nixon thought as a threat). The documentary is well made and informative- at least to me, though it very well could be familiar territory to die hard Beatles fans. Of course the music is terrific (the soundtrack includes both Beatle and Lennon solo work), and the filmmakers interviewed some very insightful guests. Most notably was that of Yoko Ono, who is strongly featured throughout the film. Besides giving a rare interview, Ono gave the filmmakers rights to many of the unseen Lennon archives. The U.S. vs John Lennon is an engaging documentary that speaks of individuality, peace, and human rights against establishment- for all generations!

1933, Yasujiro Ozu, Japan
Repeat Viewing, DVD

With Passing Fancy Ozu places a sense of heartwarming comedy amongst the setting of a Tokyo slum. In the most thoughtful and beautifully realized expression, Ozu captures the essence of a father-son relationship. The setting of this film was a change from Ozu's earliest work. While his previous films dealt more with subjects of youth and college, Passing Fancy became a transition into the working world. Passing Fancy was the first of an eventual thematic trilogy of sorts about Kihachi, a stubborn everyday man with a good heart. In these films (which also include A Story of Floating Weeds and An Inn in Tokyo), Kihachi is played by Ozu-regular Takeshi Sakamoto. Through Ozu's open, unpredictable, and simplistic narrative style, as well as Sakamoto's incredible performance, a deeply complex emotional texture is revealed within this character as well as his son (who is played with equal brilliance by Tomio Aoki). The film opens with a remarkable sequence that details Ozu's mastery of comedy and visual expression. Passing Fancy is a masterpiece of silent cinema, and a film that stands among the most pivotal of all Ozu's work.

November 2nd Log

1971, Turner Classic Movies

Turner Classic Movies has been featuring old episodes of The Dick Cavett Show and this week they played a rare 1971 interview with filmmaker Ingmar Bergman. Dick Cavett flew to Sweden to do the interview, which also features an appearance by Bibi Andersson, who has starred in many of Bergman’s films. Watching this was a wonderful treat for many reasons, but most of all because it is so rare to see interviews with Bergman. It was really interesting hearing him discuss his childhood memories and realize how they have become a strong reflection throughout his films (especially Fanny and Alexander, perhaps his most personal film- and one that was made many years after this interview). The most interesting portions of the interviews were hearing Bergman discuss films (both his own and others work). However, the majority of the interview was focused on discussing Bergman’s work with actors (this may be because Andersson was present). Anyway, it was a nice little treat for Bergman fans.

1957, Ingmar Bergman, Sweden
Repeat Viewing, Turner Classic Movies

Turner Classic Movies followed up the Dick Cavett interview with Ingmar Bergman’s most highly regarded classic and the film that brought him to the center stage of world cinema: 1957’s The Seventh Seal. This is a film I have seen many times and like most of Bergman’s work it’s openness for interpretations allows for a different experience upon each viewing. The more I see the film the more the truly dark humor elements arise from this film. Of course, the presence and uncertainly of death looms over the entire film but there is also a truly humorous level to this film. Of course Bergman’s previous film, Smiles of a Summer Night is a comic masterpiece and it’s success help get The Seventh Seal financed. Bergman’s reputation was cemented throughout the world and has since made his most memorable and definitive masterworks. The Seventh Seal is often referred to as Bergman’s greatest film, and while I won’t argue it’s significance in cinema history or even Bergman’s filmography, I do believe he has surpassed this work with several other films. Of course that is not to discredit The Seventh Seal, which I would rate a masterpiece. A film of vision, and one that is perfectly framed and representative of it’s filmmaker themes and emotions. I will continue to watch and ponder this as well as many of Bergman’s other films throughout my lifetime.

November 1st Log

1946, John Ford, United States

Repeat Viewing, DVD

This moth I will be watching or rewatching some of the work from legendary filmmaker John Ford. Ford is a filmmaker who’s work I’ve yet to deeply explore (with the exception of most of his regarded classics). I decided to start off with on I’ve seen and I consider among his best films: 1946’s My Darling Clementine. This is a moving and stunning examination of loyalty, family unity, and society's evolution. There have been many versions of Wyatt Earp and the shoot-out at the OK Corral, but this unquestionably remains the definitive one. The characters are presented in a warmhearted and realistic approach as the film calmly builds to it's climax. Visually, this film is pure perfection! Ford was a visual poet, as My Darling Clementine represents. Each and every frame is beautifully composed and meaningfully detailed. Also, the landscapes are absolutely breathtaking. The casting and performances are flawless. The great Henry Fonda (one of my personal favorite actors of all-time) is so simplistic, yet completely brilliant in portraying Wyatt Earp as a determined, courageous and noble Marshall. Though not a complete focus of the film in terms of characterization, Clementine plays a critical role in representing both the films themes and the town of Tombstone itself. She evoked a change in the town and in Wyatt Earp. And of course, the ending is so deeply lovely, simple, and effective! My Darling Clementine is a classic landmark film from one of America's legendary filmmakers.

2006, Linda Goldstein Knowlton / Linda Hawkins, United States
1st Viewing, DVD

You’d like (at least based upon the title) that this documentary is one that explores Sesame Street in an unsympathetic or even satirical way, but it is really quite the opposite. The film is a positive reflection on the universal qualities, possibilities, and values Sesame Street can hold not only in the United States, but throughout the world. Obviously the cultural differences exist, but the emotional core and human ideals make the message of the program a universal one for child all over the world. It is this cultural and social examination that lies at the heart of this film. The World According to Sesame Street is not the most effectively made documentary in terms of it’s filmmaking, yet it is deeply intriguing and touching at the same time. The films main focus centers around Sesame Street representatives trying to get the show produced throughout various countries. The film is at it’s best when showing the impact the show has on the culture and more importantly on the children. As a title card suggests at the end, Sesame Street is making its impact in over 100 countries throughout the world. This is a nice film with a hopeful and positively uplifting spirit.


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