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Posts tagged "2013 films"

#39 - Brazil (1985) Terry Gilliam - 3/30/2013

During the last Criterion sale, I took a gamble and bought the Brazil Blu-ray. A gamble because I had started watching it once before, several years ago, but abandoned it. But I reasoned, really, could it be any more up my alley? A visionary filmmaker, a world built from the scratch of our world, bold ideas and bold visuals. I’d heard bits and pieces about the troubles and the studio problems and everything else (looking forward to checking out the extra features), so I knew not to expect flawlessness. 

More and more I’m coming to love films that aim high, even if they don’t fully succeed. Show me something imperfect, show me something messy, as long as it’s crazy or new or wild or intense in a way that I haven’t seen before. There still has to be skill and knowledge, but not necessarily polish or perfection.

And Brazil is all of that, a dark and wonderfully messy box packed with visual information that I will need many more viewings to unpack. It’s weird, it’s funny, and there’s a sharp emotional kick. It’s not perfect, but I’m not sure I’d want it to be.

March totals:

  • 11 movie viewings
  • 5 in theatre, 6 at home
  • 9 new, 2 re-watches
  • 8 English language films, 3 non-English language
  • 2 Criterion titles

New releases:

  • John Dies at the End - probably the best new release I’ve seen in the theatre this year. I kept wanting to compare it to other things (Tim & Eric meets like Dead Alive or something), but it really was its own thing, and I enjoyed it a lot.
  • G.I. Joe: Retaliation - Everything I wanted it to be. I think I’m the only person above the age of 13 who had been looking forward to it since the first previews, when it was supposed to come out last year. I mean really, they had me at ninjas fighting on cliffs. Lots of fun, and the racial and gender politics, while not great, were not totally horrendous, so there’s that.
  • Jack the Giant Slayer - nope.

New (to me) ones I loved:

  • The Wild Bunch - Loved it. I can’t imagine seeing this at the time. It blew my mind now, I can’t imagine in 1969! Brutal, dirty, totally inspired filmmaking. And <3 Ernest Borgnine.
  • 3 Idiots - My first full Bollywood film, and I really did enjoy it. Wonderful how the film manages to elicit real emotion within a rather cliched framework.
  • Brazil - Weird and wonderful.
  • To Be or Not To Be - My first Lubitsch. I was surprised by how fresh it felt. Very funny.

Re-watches I loved:

  • The Godfather - Blown away. Absolutely blown away by Pacino! I don’t think it’s just because it’s in contrast to some of his other performances, it’s really just perfect restraint. And he’s so beautiful.
  • Pan’s Labyrinth - It had been a few years since I watched it, and I watched it with the commentary. I wish I had waited until I watched it on my own again, because del Toro gets into the visual and thematic elements a great deal, and I would have liked to see how much I would have picked up on. It’s a great commentary though, and I do love this film.

The rest:

  • Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia - Flashes of brilliance soaked in booze. I wasn’t too into this, but it still made me want to see The Wild Bunch, which I loved.
  • Bob Le Flambeur - Enjoyable. Full of mood. Topped in every way by Le Samourai. I want Anne’s evening gown.

I really do intend to make individual posts about some of these. hah.

#24 - Brokeback Mountain (2005) Ang Lee - 2/12/2013

I was struck by how beautiful this movie was, both in its story and in its cinematography. I already knew most of the beats of the movie, but that didn’t diminish its impact on me. I actually wasn’t really paying full attention throughout (more a reflection of my state of mind than of the movie itself), but somehow I was still moved to tears at the end. Jake Gyllenhal and Heath Ledger brought excellently nuanced complexity to Jack and Ennis. They are two men who love each other, yet who are unable to live with that love.

Brokeback mountain - a gorgeous, massive mountain that fills most of the frame - leaves its impact on the entire film. It serves as the backdrop for the love story; it grounds Jack and Ennis, it is the symbol of their love, and the point of comfort where they yearn to return. But it is also such a visual contrast to the rest of the dry, dusty, sky-filled locations that I constantly wanted to return there too.

I was disappointed that I waited so long to watch this movie. With the amount that it had been mocked in pop culture, and reduced to “the gay cowboy movie”, I was expecting there to be something there to be mocked, but there really wasn’t, and that made me really sad.

Our Spoiler Series ramble

#22 - Pariah (2011) Dee Rees - 2/4/2013

It’s interesting, the journey that a film can take in your mind, and it’s sad to know that some won’t ever take the time to let some films make that journey. Pariah was such a film for me. I didn’t immediately love it, but after a few days I found it to be a pretty damn near perfect indie film.

I think perhaps the reason why I didn’t immediately love it is because it seems very “standard indie” at first - in many respects, it is exactly what I think of when I hear the term “indie film” and so I entered the film with my own expectations of what that would look like and feel like, and they mostly played out as expected. I felt like I wasn’t really surprised by any elements of the film, so that colored my initial thoughts.

Note that this is also why I try as much as possible to know as little as possible going into a movie, but in this case it was my own expectations about genre (or at least the overarching category of “indie”) instead of the movie itself that caused the problem.

The issue I thought I had was that the things that used to mean something, or that used to be out of necessity because of budget and technical constraints, have sometimes become shorthand without meaning.

I think I struggled with Pariah because the film at first looks like it relies on that shorthand. But it doesn’t, it all exists for a reason. Yes, this film has many elements that seem to be classic “indie” hallmarks, but there are intense subtleties and complexities that elevate each of those elements to perfection that makes it an outstanding film that I loved.

The acting was really outstanding, especially knockout performances by Adepero Oduye as Alike, and Pernell Walker as her friend Laura.

Here are some more ramblings thoughts, from our spoiler series.

What happened this month? Well, a week-long trip home, no new releases worth seeing, plus 30ish hours of Fire Emblem: Awakening (which I finished, so now I’m back to movies), and major anxiety resulting from the fear of having to write stuff.

February Totals:

  • 7 movie viewings
  • 3 in theatre, 4 at home
  • 4 new, 3 re-watches
  • no non-English language films, no Criterion releases =(

Movies where I thought I was going to get burned alive in the theatre:

  • The Terminator, Tough Guy Cinema edition, with a live pyrotechnics show in the theatre (it was awesome)

Loved:

  • Vertigo
  • Pariah
  • Singin’ in the Rain (twice)

Liked:

  • Brokeback Mountain
  • The Terminator

Didn’t Like:

  • The Dark Knight Rises

I do still plan on writing about a few of these, at least a little bit, so that will be upcoming.

January totals:
  • 21 movie viewings
  • 7 in theatre, 14 at home
  • 16 new, 5 re-watches (Yojimbo was both a new watch and a re-watch)
  • 14 English language films, 6 non-English 
  • 6 Criterion titles
Favorites of the month:
New releases:
My favorite things I wrote this month:
My crushes:
The rest: Finding Nemo, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, Yojimbo, The Big Gundown, Santa Sangre, The Naked Kiss, Shoot the Piano Player!, The Next Three Days, Premium Rush

#20 - Parker (2013) Taylor Hackford - 1/29/2013

First of all, if you’re a fan of the character Parker as popularized by Darwyn Cooke, run away as fast as you can, for you’ll be sorely disappointed. A movie based on the Parker of The Hunter or The Outfit, with a visual style influenced by Cooke, would have been an amazing movie indeed. 

What we get, instead, is an action/heist-ish movie that’s all process and almost no payoff, based on one of the later Parker stories. If the film is faithful to the book (Flashfire), it makes me think that perhaps Donald Westlake was getting soft in his golden years. Gone is the cold cruelty of Parker, an uncaring, ruthless force. In his place is a truffle of a Parker - a hard outer shell with the calculated drive to regain what he is owed because of the principle of it all, but with a gooey center.

As an action/heist-ish movie, it’s not terrible, but I was far too disappointed by what could have been to be anywhere near satisfied with what I got. Jason Statham is perfectly serviceable, but there must be something in his contract where he always has to play the bad boy with a heart of gold. It’s annoying. Parker shouldn’t have a heart of gold, he shouldn’t have a heart. The rest of the performances ranged from not bad/strange (J Lo, Patti LuPone) to terrible (Michael Chiklis, Nick Nolte). I quite liked Emma Booth as Parker’s girlfriend, and actually didn’t mind the character too much.

Along with Magic Mike and Killing Them Softly, this is another movie played against a background of the economic crisis. Leslie (Lopez) is a casualty of the economic meltdown, desperately needing (and failing) to sell luxury that she can never afford. Lopez did an excellent job in the moment where she expresses her frustration at being constantly faced with that irony, but the movie treated that moment almost as a throwaway in the scene and in the film. Where Magic Mike subtly infused details of the economy into almost every scene, or where Killing Them Softly made very loud and very angry comments about the economy in almost every scene, Parker wastes an opportunity to make a much more interesting statement.

I found Leslie to be a compelling character, yet puzzling. Lopez does a very good job portraying her resiliency in the face of economic despair. It’s clear that the character is supposed to be sharp and perceptive, which I liked, but Lopez also plays the character a bit ditzy, which I didn’t like, but that in itself is an interesting comment on a woman who is smarter than she looks and who knows she can use that to her advantage at times, so maybe I liked that choice after all? I also wasn’t quite sure of what to make of Leslie’s overt attraction to Parker/ desperate seduction attempts. It was kind of refreshing to see a woman’s sexual desires shown, something not commonly shown in this way. It was also kind of refreshing to see audience expectations subverted. But it was also disconcerting to see it played as sad desperation.

I loved the look of the place markers, but they could have used a few more; the inconsistency felt sloppy. All of the daytime scenes felt too bright and washed out, and enough with the goddamn close ups!

But what bothered me most were the flashbacks - never my favorite technique, even when done well, but here they were particularly inelegant and just plain dumb. Especially when Parker is reliving a scene that happened exactly five minutes ago, that the audience all lived through exactly five minutes ago, and which was particularly painful the first time around. 

This isn’t a terrible movie, but there’s almost nothing surprising or outstanding about it, nothing that really elevates this movie to something I would recommend.

This is a movie that Tim and I watched for our Spoiler Series.

#19 - Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters (2013) Tommy Wirkola - 1/27/2013

A lot more fun than it has any right to be, and probably less fun than it could have been. It’s rare that a film these days really has only one big narrative arc, and so even though it is less than an hour and a half, it took its time and ended up feeling quite long, dragging at parts. But Gemma Arterton is a delight, somehow making you feel that it’s OK to have fun, even as she rolls her eyes before getting down to business. She believably kicks ass, and believably gets her ass kicked. The character designs of the witches were pretty outstanding too, like concepts from a Guillermo del Toro sketchbook. If you’re going to go see a January movie, this is probably one of your better bets. Not great, but enjoyable.

#18 - Shoot the Piano Player! (1960) François Truffaut - 1/27/2013

#17 - The Untouchables (1987) Brian De Palma 1/26/2013

I just saw The Untouchables for the first time, and let me tell you, I loved it. While the entire film entertained the hell out of me, there were several things that completely elevated the film to something really excellent.

The title credits - AMAZING. Morricone’s opening theme is the very definition of spaghetti western + Chicago gangster, and yet it is completely unlike anything I had ever heard before. It has been stuck in my head for the past few days, and that’s not a complaint in any way. Morricone really outdid himself on the score. 

The first scene is an excellent indicator of what is to come. From the start, De Palma knocks your socks off with his visual inventiveness and playfulness, but it is not just style, there really is substance. The overhead shot allows you to see the whole room - Capone at the center of his sphere of influence, the press in close around him, his advisers/ guards at the edge of the circle. His men are there for support and protection yet Capone, about to be shaved, is put in a position of incredible vulnerability; the overhead shot enforces this feeling even more. The wide angle and the circular motif are used in other Capone scenes to underline his pull on the press and the public. De Palma also does something here that I really like, creating an establishing shot that is visually interesting before moving in for the closer shot. The scene at the firing range is another great example.

This scene also shows DeNiro’s greatness. The barber approaches with the straight razor, which anytime, really, I view as a Chekhov’s gun situation. The unthinkable happens, he cuts Capone’s face, and DeNiro’s choices in those moments show everything - the slight jerk, [the barber’s terror], the finger with the blood, Capone *almost* touching the barber but not quite, that fluid movement from the finger with the blood to the finger pointing, and then the rest of the gestures - so simple, so precise, so perfect. In quick succession you see why Capone is feared, how he commands so much power and control, and ultimately why he was a charismatic celebrity. 

The scene that almost got me on my feet was the scene between Jim Malone (Sean Connery) and the police chief (Richard Bradford). Again, an interesting establishing shot - nighttime, rain, blue lights illuminating half the shot, red lights illuminating the other half. Connery and Bradford face off in one of the most outstandingly performed scenes I can remember. Really masterful acting. For most of the scene it is a long take and a medium shot, and as their fight escalates, it is emphasized with a medium close up and then a close up. Oooh, I loved it!

A few final notes - there are really too many outstanding scenes to highlight, but the shooting range scene, Capone’s dinner, the elevator sequence, and inside Malone’s house are all favorites. It was nice to finally see the Odessa Steps sequence in context, as I’d seen it in classes before. I don’t know why I am only seeing this for the first time now, maybe because I was like, Costner? nah. But I really liked him. Andy Garcia, yes please. I guess I should also say that I have a strange weakness for movies about people teaming up together (I think this might be my main reason for liking Alien3), so my love for this may be a little overdone (but I don’t think so!). There’s also some unavoidable late 80s cheese, but it’s bearable.

I was lucky to see it in 70mm, but it’s also on Netflix right now. Do yourself a favor and have a great cinematic experience.

#16 - Broken City (2013) Allen Hughes - 1/24/2013

A good mid-budget movie and a solid modern entry for hard-boiled noir. I really do love Russell Crowe, and aside from his wandering accents, I thought he was great. Particularly effective in the debate scene. The plot is weak, you can’t stare at it too hard, but for the length of the movie I was well-entertained and pleasantly surprised. 

This is a movie that Tim and I watched for our spoiler series. Read our spoilery convo after you go see the movie!

Spoiler Series - Broken City

#15 - The Company (2003) Robert Altman - 1/21/2013

The Company is special to me, partly because it feels so familiar. As a once-serious, classically-trained ballet dancer, I’m always reluctant to watch films featuring ballet; rarely do I feel that they accurately capture the world I saw. But The Company really does. It captures the feel of being part of something that others don’t really understand. It captures the drama and the pettiness and camaraderie of the company, the feel of the dressing room, the feel backstage. It captures a little of what it feels like to rehearse in an empty theatre, and to later feel the energy in that same theatre, from a packed house. It captures the essence of that mantra, the show must go on. And it captures the feeling after the performance ends, and the dancer leaves the stage, returns to a normal life, and is like a god amongst men - what is that person doing waiting tables, they just did something that was so beautiful and so super human what are they doing there.

The narrative alternates between pieces of performance and snippets of Ry (Neve Campbell) and the company’s lives, often in rehearsal for the pieces. It’s not a traditional narrative, or a narrative with a major conflict. Instead, the film is about small conflicts, small dramas in the course of creating art.

This is also probably the best that ballet looks on screen. The Company features The Joffrey Ballet of Chicago, a company whose style I love, where I wanted to audition once-upon-a-time. Altman knows that most viewers couldn’t give a fuck about how the dance is presented, they mostly want to see where Neve is. But he treats the pieces with the respect that they deserve, even when using the medium of film to show the dance in a way that you wouldn’t see from the audience. The piece on the giant swing is still one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen on film, and well worth a watch.

Malcolm McDowell is PERFECT as the ballet master. His mannerisms and the things he says - I swear they modeled that character on my ballet mistress. “You look like you’ve got a load in your pants!” (my ballet mistress used to say that we looked like a bear taking a dump in the woods), calling the dancers “babies” and “phonies”, flitting from whim to whim, contradictions be damned.

And Neve is a perfectly serviceable dancer, although there are definitely times when I felt like screaming at the screen, “relax your goddamn shoulders and stick in those ribs!” She’s better than Natalie Portman, at least. I also didn’t want to kill James Franco, so there’s that.

Major props to the foley artist who perfectly captured the sound of a tendon snapping. A++

#14 - The Naked Kiss (1964) Samuel Fuller - 1/19/2013

#13 - Rosemary’s Baby (1968) Roman Polanski - 1/16/2013

An exceedingly disturbing portrait of a woman unable to control what happens to her own body. Timely!

Although Repulsion is more pure psychological horror, Rosemary’s Baby also works extremely well on that level, and brings body horror into the mix. The horror of the film comes not so much from the Satanists themselves, but from the fact that they come so close to convincing Rosemary (as well as the viewer) that it is all in her head. 

I didn’t find this film quite as disturbing as Repulsion at first, but I think it’s growing on me. The conception sequence and the late sequence with the doctor both really shook me. 

While all horror films scare the shit out of me, I think that psychological horror is the most interesting. Perhaps it is because I often feel like I teeter on the precipice of not OK, and one day could wake up and be really not OK, with basically nothing changing. Or knowing that others could consider me to be “crazy” and - would I know? Would I be able to convince them otherwise? That is truly frightening.

Some thoughts on Repulsion

Some more talk about Rosemary’s Baby - with Tim on One Hundred and Eighty Degrees

#12 - Premium Rush (2012) David Koepp - 1/15/2013

I guess this was fun. I watched it with two friends - one loved it, another liked it, I did not so much.

And I know this is like heresy, but I really don’t loooove JGL. He’s fine. I don’t love him.

I really didn’t like Jamie Chung and her horrible attempt at an accent and badly stereotyped portrayal.

I really didn’t like Michael Shannon and his horrible overacting (wth? he was really bad!).

And I really really didn’t like the dated storyline - corrupt cop with a gambling problem, Chinese crime syndicate/gambling ring - that does nothing to add any subtlety, or any complexity to what is basically an antiquated story outline, other than to throw bike messengers in the mix.

I think this has rotted even more in my memory.