Archive for the ‘film’ Category

Film Log #14 – 2.2024

Saturday, February 17th, 2024

Went to Austin Film Society a few times recently.

Eyes Wide Shut
Screened 12.29.23

Mostly due to it being nearly impossible to produce original critiques about any Kubrick film, I generally don’t jump at the chance to write about them. That said, after making it a point to see his pictures in theaters, thoughts do come to mind.

This isn’t a revelation, but Kubrick makes BIG pictures. There are no small characters, small lines, small shots, small ideas–  everything is BIG. They are are philosophically big, laced with meanings, and definitely up for interpretation.

Awhile back, I saw Lost Highway (David Lynch, 1997) at AFS and thought it was a little on the disappointing side because it seemed as though an old man (Lynch) who had a hand in tilting pop culture towards something darker in the 80s and early 90s, was now reveling in the fact that the 1997 “mainstream” was overtly reaching towards depravity. It felt, at best, like a victory lap for Lynch, or at worst, a reminder to everyone that Lynch was the bellwether of the dark provocateurs that had captured so much of the late 90s mainstream (Marilyn Manson, Rob Zombie, etc).

Similar criticisms about Kubrick and EWS don’t ring true to me. This isn’t just an old man making his most sexually explicit film. This is more about making a film that floats around themes of (in)fidelity, (in)security, hierarchical rumors, possible conspiracies / cultish elite groupings (more on that) and shouldn’t be thought of as a desperate yawp from a dirty old man.

Having first seen it in the early 2000s, then once or twice in the two subsequent decades, this was my first time to see it in seven years (or so). Watching it with a 2024 perspective makes one draw some conclusions that might require a tinfoil hat and a penchant for conspiracies.

Important to note–  I’m not prone to connecting dots that aren’t there. But I find it hard to watch EWS and not draw parallels to so many of the things making headlines today (most obviously– powerful elites involved in sexual acts that have grave consequences).

Anyways, perhaps EWS is only a reimagined adaptation of Arthur Schnitzler’s 1926 Freudian novella Traumnovelle (Dream Story in English) as the director claimed? Perhaps Kubrick heard some whispers about powerful people and decided to make a film about it? Hell, there’s even a storyline involving a father selling/pimping his young, very-underage daughter to foreign businessmen. Make of that what you will.

To remove the tinfoil hats and brush the conspiracies and cult behavior aside, we’ll return to the movie. Since Kubrick is regarded as a perfectionist, it’s strange that he allowed his actors to repeat the questions asked of them on four separate occasions. It’s the kind of weak improvisation or even weaker writing to have characters repeat one another like a child caught with their hand in the cookie jar kind of way.
When Tom Cruise is said to be a terrible actor, I have previously attempted to offer roles where, at one time or another, I felt like he did something more than bring his forced gregariousness and transparent charisma to the screen. Roles like he had in Collateral, Jerry Maguire, Magnolia, and EWS previously came to mind, but I’m guessing that Kubrick wanted an actor with this type of specific, aggressively flaccid charm to counterbalance the dark and sinister film’s ecosystem.

In retrospect, this film can hardly be offered up as a defense to the acting talents of Tom Cruise because his performance is quite honestly the film’s low point. That’s saying something considering the film is about a whole mess of terrible things (pedophilia, an HIV+ diagnosis, drug overdoses, rampant destructive orgies, etc) circling around the two main characters (Kidman + Cruise).

It’s not an easy watch. I don’t feel the need to watch it again. The main thing that changed for me after watching this film across three different decades is how it has an entirely new meaning after 2019’s headlines.

Speculation and conjecture to tether the subject matter to current events, sure. But, if you give it another go, I’m guessing you’d see it from a new perspective (or at least a perspective only a limited few had upon its release).

Zone of Interest
Screened 1.25.2024

*If you’d prefer to skip past as disapproving of a review as I can write and move onto a glowing review, here’s your chance. Skip now to Wings of Desire.*

I’m rarely blown away by cinema. My experiences usually ebb and flow from “bad” to “not-so-bad” and “pretty good.”
When a film does hit incredible notes and I’m enjoying each scene, character, cut, musical accompaniment, and I am totally fulfilled by a cinematic experience, I take note and try to examine how exactly that happened.

In 2019, I experienced this with Jonathan Glazer’s Sexy Best (released in 2000). Based on that, I have given Glazer’s subsequent films (Birth, Under the Skin) an enthusiastic watch and have been disappointed each time.

To describe Zone of Interest succinctly–  ZoI is a study on the banality of evil. A depiction of the home life belonging to Rudolf Hoss, the commandant of Auschwitz.

To elaborate, we’ve all seen WWII/Nazi pictures before, but this film’s denouement is the most dissatisfying I’ve ever seen. Perhaps that’s the point?
This film is without a protagonist.
There is not a single character or motivation to root for.

We’re provided depictions of various levels of villainy– from Hoss’s wife trying on a fur coat whose rightful owner is, presumably, a recently murdered/gassed/incinerated Jewish lady to the Hoss’s conducting familial affairs while thousands of innocent people are systematically scorched per day (nearly 10,000 per day) a few hundred feet from where the principle characters conduct their lives and fight to remain in what they refer to as their “dream home”– it’s a despairing cavalcade of evil.

It’s hard to see a film with this subject matter and not unfavorably compare it to something like Schindler’s List, but where SL showcases exceptional care for story, characters, meaning, and payoff– ZoI replaces those with a sterile technique to further beat into the audience just how disinterested Glazer is in crafting narrative. Much like Glazer’s past two films following Sexy Beast, Glazer isn’t interested in character/story, he just wants to flesh out ideas on screen. Which is fine. It’s fine. They just feel more like video exercises than narratives. 

I’m only looking for something to provide me with an explanation of what contemporary art/award-seeking cinema is trying to be. I’ll be writing more about this soon (I saw Poor Things recently), but I find contemporary art pictures have become, pardon the updated vernacular here, the equivalent of doom scrolling for the entirety of a feature-length film.

Are we trying to make our films feel similar to scrolling social media? This cannot be the goal, but it often feels like that’s exactly the film’s goal.

I’m not asking for rose-colored pictures where everything is perfectly peachy and hunky dory. Hell, my favorite films don’t have happy endings, but they’ll at least feature a journey that I mostly support. I’m only asking for the screen to provide me with a reason to vest my interest and have hopeful concerns.

However, when it comes to Rudolf Hoss and ZoI, I enter the film already believing him to be an evil Nazi, and though I’m provided a glimpse of the squabbles he had with his wife and the corporate maneuvering of the Nazi party before many of the top officials met their neck-breaking noosed ends, I’m not at one point drawn to care about this picture.

There is zero dimensionality to anybody on screen.
There isn’t a meaningful conflict (the presumed conflict is “how does this family function when there are rigidly scheduled horrors occurring 50 feet from their home?”).
Unless you are creepily into what Nazi families’ lives were like as they were profiting from and contributing to a heinous genocide, I do not understand how this film could captivate anyone.

Prior to the screening, I thought the motivation behind making this picture would be to put the audience in an uncomfortable position of “this is a family drama with heartfelt moments except… they’re Nazis so any of the ‘Golden Rule’ lessons that parents teach their children is entirely hypocritical because… they’re Nazis so, audience, how about you go ahead and chew on that discomfort for a while?”

Admittedly, neither my prior expectations or the actual film proved to be any good.

My recommendation is to skip this one.
Watch Europa, Europa; Schindler’s List, The Pianist, or any other WWII picture if you’re feeling like a WWII picture.

If you’re looking for a video exercise and dramatization of the banality of evil, perhaps ZoI is the one for you.

Wings of Desire
Screened 2.9.2024

For all the times I discuss the importance of a properly-weighted Three-Act Structure, this film is an exception. It wonderfully plays out in two halves.

The first half shows us the reverence two angels, Damiel and Cassiel, have for the life they’ve observed since time immemorial. Most importantly, what they’re witnessing presently.

Set in Berlin in the mid-1980s, 40-ish years after WWII, Berlin is indeed a sad place. Aside from a Holocaust survivor’s thoughts that the angels listen in on, the film doesn’t directly focus on a nation that’s attempting to turn the page on the atrocities staining their previous generation(s), but there’s an overarching feeling of sadness and isolation to the picture (plenty of scenes include the Berlin Wall).

This film reminded me so much of Robert Altman’s Nashville. I wrote about how that film did a remarkable job of capturing the 1970s Middle American zeitgeist. Though I didn’t personally experience USA’s 1970s or Germany’s 1980s, these two films seem to capture a collective consciousness of these times and places.
That alone is a success. Many artists and journalists aim for that and miss.

The first half reminds us that even when lives are tough, or we feel beatdown, downtrodden, that life is worthwhile. These aches, pains, failures, and emotional let downs are a part of life and that life itself is far better than the alternative. Apparently it’s even better than being an angel whose only function is to observe.

And that brings us to the second half where Damiel decides to trade in his wings and finally get to experience life instead of devoutly manning his lifeless post.

After Wenders perfectly exhibits how difficult human existence can be, he exceptionally flips the narrative to show just how fortunate we are to have these burdensome lives.

I know this sounds hokey, but this dichotomy of “aren’t we lucky to be able to experience the complications and sorrow of humanity?” isn’t an easy story to tell, but Wenders does it without pretension and without being corny.

For as many films as I’ve been watching lately that depict a never-ending stream of two-dimensional hate-worthy characters, it was so refreshing to revisit a film where compassion is felt for nearly every character. It’s been too long since I actually wanted to learn more about a narrative world. At 127 minutes, that’s certainly enough movie, but I still feel like I wanted to spend even more time with these people. Like the angels, I wish to personally be able to wish them well. I’m motivated to have hope for these fictitious characters. For as difficult as it is for me to catch myself actually being inspired by “stories of humanity,” this film is inspiring; it’s an unmitigated success.

There aren’t many films that I can give this recommendation, but– if you’re ever at a very low place, give Wings of Desire a shot.
It’ll provide some perspective and hope.

Admittedly, this review is hokier than the film.

Film Log #13 – Brando.

Friday, December 22nd, 2023

I was asked about “top” or “resonant” films. It struck me that I really haven’t written about Brando’s work. Most notably:
On the Waterfront (1954)
Streetcar Named Desire (1951)
Last Tango in Paris (1972)
Apocalypse Now (1979)

The friend who made the inquiry, Jo Munto, and I agreed to omit obvious choices like Godfather because they’ve been churned into critical mulch by now, and not that the above films are “deep cuts” by any measure, but I’d say most people under the age of 50 have missed them. Which is to say, with the exception of Godfather, most people under 50 have likely missed Brando (crazy).

I’ve recently revisited all of the above films listed (within the past two years or so). An omission I’m unable to write about are the forever-linked films The Wild One (1953) and Rebel Without a Cause (1955). Brando isn’t in the latter, but it’s hard to speak about one without the other and watching both is on my to-do list.

Back to Brando. There are plenty of texts, videos, essays, video essays, about Brando and “method acting.” Most people interpret it as though an actor becomes so comfortable/intimate with their character assignment that the performance becomes paramount. Performance becomes more important than cameras, script, or anything that’s been predetermined.

That’s a very simplistic version of the technique, but with Brando being one of the innovators, it becomes clear that he values being totally comfortable within his assignment that he eventually blends himself into his biggest roles. I would never say that Brando, Nicholson, Daniel Day-Lewis, or anyone who has been labeled as “method” actors, believe their vision is more important than any writer or director, but more that they believe the project is a collaboration and that they should be allowed the opportunity to positively contribute, even slightly alter.

Take for instance Matt Damon recounting this Nicholson story during The Departed.
This isn’t to say that any performance where an actor feels comfortable enough to take pretty big liberties with the scripted character qualifies that performance or technique as “method,” but it is a touchstone indicator where actors began to feel that these characters belonged to them as much as any writer or director.

I’d like to imagine that an understanding writer/producer/director/casting director/etc believes they select talented people who work collaboratively to make the absolute best work of art (I know that’s a simplistic + optimistic viewpoint). And for the times a fan reads that Brando, DD-L, or whoever may have been a “pain” to work with was only experiencing the pains of collaboration. Admittedly, that could totally be white-washing many of these actors’ on-set behavior (primadona or otherwise).

All of this said, On the Waterfront is exceptional. There is the interesting wrinkle that OtW is a response to 1952’s High Noon where Gary Cooper portrays a sherriff who’s compelled by their own sense of duty to face down a gang that is returning to town for retribution. In short, the film is about standing up for “what’s right,” even in times of crisis or danger. Many felt it was an analogy for standing up to the HUAC (House Un-American Activities Committee) and not naming names.

Conversely, OtW is about Terry Malloy (Brando) who was more or less set up by his brother to do a terrible thing for a crooked syndicate. When the entirety of the situation is made clear to Malloy, he proceeds to cooperate with authorities and reveal what he knows about a predatory, rigged system.

In production, execution, editing, acting, every aspect– both are all-timers; more than worth your time. It’s another example of how masterfully art can present both sides to what one might think is a zero-sum issue, and come away understanding how both perspectives have truth to them. Screening those in succession might lead someone to believe that most issues aren’t boiled down to something as simplistic as “100% right or 100% wrong,” but, depending on any individual’s value spectrums, just to what extent is something more right or more wrong.

I find it difficult to talk about Brando without bringing up On the Waterfront and it’s nearly impossible to bring up OtW without mentioning High Noon.

I’d honestly post links to specific Brando scenes from OtW if I didn’t think it’d somehow ruin the experience of watching the film in its entirety. If you wanna spoil it for yourself, you can find the scenes where Brando flirts with Eva Marie Saint, gives his “I coulda been a contender” speech to his brother, or when he goes toe-to-toe with mob boss Johnny Friendly (played by Lee J. Cobb); or you could screen the movie and enjoy a film that changed acting forever.

I shouldn’t have to spend much time on Streetcar Named Desire. It’s a thing where you either appreciate Tennessee Williams or you don’t. If you haven’t exposed yourself to anything Tennessee Williams, well… you should. Williams’s fiction does tell a particularly monochromatic story, but that doesn’t mean it’s without truth, complexity, or drama.

And what actor brings truth, complexity, and drama to the screen better than Brando?

Brando makes scripted performances feel very much unscripted. It’s not simply little tricks such as talking over another character or being bombastic– he transforms. Like Miles with his trumpet or Hendrix with his Stratocaster, he plays himself into these characters in ways that most successful actors are incapable of doing.

Onto Brando’s Stanley Kowalski–
You know, many act like the concept of “anti-hero” is somewhat new. Nope. It didn’t begin with Walter White or Don Draper or Tony Soprano or any 90210 cast member or Don Corleone or any representation of Scarface or Kerouac’s Dean Moriarty or any of James Cagney’s characters or Twain’s Huckleberry Finn or any American character for that matter.
I know there are centuries between these artists, but we can look to Homer, Cervantes, and Shakespeare and find many antiheroes.
That said, it’s near impossible to be as simultaneously magnetic and repellent as Brando is as Kowalski.

He’s selfish, brooding, cocksure, stubborn, and doesn’t have time for all the bullshit that his wife’s sister, Blanche (played by Vivien Leigh), injects into his home. As mentioned by his repellent nature, Kowalski handles Blanche’s extended visit despicably, but, pardon the cliche, it’s a car crash we can’t look away from.

SND is perfectly crafted storytelling by Tennessee Williams that’s masterfully executed by Brando and cast. If that doesn’t compel one to watch the movie, I’m not sure what will.

Brando, who had fought to be anti-authority in the 1950s had seemed to lose that battle much to his own personal troubles and succumbed to regarding acting/Hollywood as just a job to pay the bills and he subsequently became a working stiff unable to inspire the public.
So strange for a man who had such a hand in building a counterculture in one generation to be regarded as a lousy, two-bit, over-the-hill companyman by the next.

Luckily, Francis Ford Coppola came calling and offered Brando the Godfather role provided he didn’t thwart production as he unfortunately had done during a few projects in the 1960s. Brando’s Godfather experience, more or less, reignited something in him where he felt motivated to work on an experimental project with Bernardo Bertolucci– Last Tango in Paris.

The film isn’t without bad press, was scandalizing at the time, and has only aged poorly. The main reason people find it distasteful is that both the lead actor and director manipulated the young, impressionable lead actress, Maria Schneider, into participating in simulated acts that weren’t scripted. Most notably, a rape scene.

These aren’t the scenes that I’m thrilled by. What does intrigue me are the scenes where Brando injects his personal childhood experiences into the Paul character, a monologue beside a corpse, and a scene between Brando’s character (Paul) and Paul’s wife’s extramarital boyfriend.

The film is also a lesson in desire and how sometimes passion wanes once advances are not just accepted, but wholly embraced. The immature, but all too common belief that the “chase is more thrilling than the actual prize.” Clearly, it’s a complicated film, but interesting nonetheless.

I understand the film’s criticisms range from outrage to advanced concern, and those criticisms may outweigh some incredible scenes, but those incredible scenes do still exist.

For as sprawling and spiraling as Apocalypse Now‘s narrative is, the film anchors on Brando’s performance as Colonel Kurtz. It’s a long film that winds its way for 90 minutes as Martin Sheen tells us about this mysterious Kurtz. Then Brando shows up and surpasses everything we could’ve presumed.
It’s incredible.
Again, I would link clips to specific scenes, but they’d either spoil the plot or would take the air out of your experience if you haven’t seen it.
YouTube some scenes if you like, but I believe you’d be much better off giving this film 150 minutes of your time.

Film Log #12 – 11.2023

Thursday, November 30th, 2023

The Paramount Theatre’s Summer Film Series ended in September.
Here are three negative reviews and one positive.

The Age of Innocence
(screened 6.27.23)

Should’ve been more appropriately named, America’s Obsession with Opulence.
I don’t see the appeal of this subject matter.

As I sat in The Paramount Theatre watching Daniel Day-Lewis perform Scorsese’s vision of Edith Wharton’s literary depiction of 1870s New York City, I thought about another period piece DD-L appeared in– 1985’s A Room with a View and basically wished to be rewatching the latter instead of viewing the former for the first time.

I realize that Hollywood has always beaten trends to death and from the mid-80s to the mid-90s, there certainly was a rash of making this style of period pieces. And, perhaps like most people, when I’m experiencing movies from a certain era or about a certain topic, I just immediately compare what I’m seeing to what I already know.

And even though I don’t particularly love ARwaV (I’m not hustling out to rewatch or re-read it so I can provide an in-depth write up), I still remember enjoying it far more than The Age of Innocence/America’s Obsession with Opulence.

One piece of art celebrates the wealthy (and their inconveniences of their own design); the other mocks the attitudes and habits of the wealthy. For Scorsese to begin production on The Age of Innocence in 1991 and for it to be released in 1993– the timing seems telling. It’s as though when New York City, along with the rest of the country, was beginning to make some necessary noise about 1980s Trickle Down Economics and the growing disparity between the haves and the have nots, Scorsese’s response seems to be, “Hey, this is America and this is how it has always been.”

The story should be something that most people can relate to. A young couple gets involved and as the relationship progresses, one begins to develop feelings for someone outside the relationship. Plenty of people have been there.

The film then delves into the “agony” between these two lovers that, due to the social and cultural attitudes of the era, simply cannot be. I’m just not the demographic for this type of story. Considering the two films’ endings, I prefer George Emerson’s success in A Room with a View over the down-and-out mopiness of The Age of Innocence’s Newland Archer.

This is a specific film and you’d have to be very into costume design, set design, and emotional repression in order to enjoy this film.

Barry Lyndon
(screened 8.30.23)

For all the pomp and circumstance that comes with Stanley Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon (1975), I’m only grateful for having seen it so I can confidently know just what I wasn’t previously missing.
Yes, it’s incredibly well shot. “Every frame is a painting.”
But none of that matters if the story doesn’t engage.

The titular character is an unscrupulous man that isn’t interesting. The story does an excellent job at portraying nearly everyone involved as a static, one-dimensional character that never does anything truly transformative through the plot points.
Lyndon marries for money, lives inconsiderately, and doesn’t possess a single redeeming quality unless you fancy a man with fencing skills.

Character and story have to mean something. I’m the type of viewer that needs a reason to be invested. I need to be intrigued, invested in what is happening on screen.
This is admittedly sounding a bit high maintenance.

I think about films that have engaged me and I reflect on characters, on conflicts:

Almodovar’s Hable con Ella (2002) whose main character, Marco, supports a person (Benigno) who did a reprehensible and complicated thing because that oddly sympathetic villain once supported him during a difficult period.

Rafelson’s Five Easy Pieces (1970) and a man who can’t find fulfillment within academic or working class circles or intimate relationships, so he seems to continually feel lost; without a community. (There will be a write up on this film soon).

Bogdanovich’s The Last Picture Show (1971) and how “sexuality/adulthood” can sneak up on teens and how those who aggressively seek it are often most unprepared for “maturity” while also detailing cultural and generational shifts as well as highlighting the deep personal regret many people live with. 

This is just to name a few. And what sticks in my craw most is when a filmmaker doesn’t first make me care about characters before telling me their story.
Why do I care? Why should I care?

As previously mentioned with Cool Hand Luke (1967), we are instantly shown Luke Jackson’s character and how that magnetic stubbornness would be his success and demise.

Conversely, Barry Lyndon paints the picture of a self-centered prick who seems to have been born a prick and dies a ne’er-do-well prick.
He’s definitely not a protagonist and there’s never a consistent antagonist, just a series of characters (who also aren’t worth rooting for) who go toe-to-toe with Barry Lyndon. I never really found the conflicts or personalities interesting.

To put it as concisely as I can–  I saw a beautiful picture and didn’t care about whose portrait was being painted.

[This has nothing to do with The Paramount’s Summer Film Series– I recently saw this at Alamo Drafthouse in San Antonio– screened 11.10.23]

When a new film is released that I already have every intention of seeing, I avoid reading any reviews prior to screening. I prefer having a “clean slate” and not allow my first impressions to be coaxed one way or another.
This was the case for the much anticipated viewing of Killers of the Flower Moon.

Like most Americans born after 1970, Martin Scorsese’s work has certainly had an affect on me. After consulting his imdb page– I’ve seen 26 of his directed projects (there are 68 films, short films, music videos, and various TV projects listed), including 17 of his prominent 24 full-length features that were given wide releases. 
Apologies for sounding like Dwight Schrute there.

It’s safe to say that I’m a Scorsese fan. Allow me to point out that I mostly defended his previous 3.5 hour release.

Before I earnestly begin listing the many ways I feel this film fails, may I recommend googling “Films about Native Americans/First Nations” and watch ANY two of those before spending 3.5 hours watching Killers of the Flower Moon.
Or hell, just read the Killers of the Flower Moon book instead.

After perusing a few of those lists, a few films that jumped out to me are:
Smoke Signals (1998)
Atanarjuat the Fast Runner (2001)
Drunktown’s Finest (2014)
Songs My Brothers Taught Me (2015)
Geronimo:  An American Legend (1993)

I haven’t seen any of the above, but boy I wish I had instead of spending time with KotFM.
To return back to the matter of character– KotFM makes it difficult to find a three-dimensional character worth rooting for. 

Obviously, provided the historical context we all know, The Osage characters are worth rooting for. But, for the most part, the film introduces The Osage as one-dimensional victims, and in most cases they die as victims very soon after their introduction. 

The few times we are shown dimensionality, it’s fairly predictable– this character loves her mother, she’s a bit wild, she is loyal, but we all know the character we’ve been introduced to is about to be heartlessly murdered because that’s the entire premise of the film.
The three Osage characters given the most screen time aren’t particularly fully formed (more on that later).

Onto the white characters. The intention is to depict these people as evil, vile, and stupid. The film is successful in this regard. But villainy, stupidity, and evil alone don’t make for interesting characters worth investing in. 

I’m reminded of films where evil foes had power over their victims and titles like Schindler’s List, The Shawshank Redemption, and Cool Hand Luke come to mind. Itzhak Stern (portrayed by Sir Ben Kingsley) is the very definition of a victim, yet that historical character’s dimensionality is wholly revealed in time. 

In Shawshank and CHL, the inmates’ (victims) personalities are vibrantly displayed and the villainous warden/guards remain flat, one-dimensional.  

In KotFM, every character is flat, motives are obvious, and the amount of screen time awarded to The Osage (the victims) vs. the screen time dedicated to depicting the witless lengths these white men (the antagonists) go to conduct heinous murders is terribly lopsided. So, what’s so damned interesting about seeing a clumsy collective of evil people casually discussing their villainy?

I haven’t seen Oppenheimer yet, but I imagine the crux of that film is that, as these brilliant people worked towards historic scientific breakthroughs, they had to consider that their project’s success may eventually lead to the deaths of hundreds of thousands.
That’s tension. Is the pursuit of scientific breakthroughs worth costing immeasurable human life and environmental destruction?
Do the ideas and discussions in Oppenheimer shape how we discuss current topics (AI, biological warfare, etc)?

KotFM, however, depicts eight evil simpletons dead set on getting the financial/oil rights belonging to The Osage people. Because killing many in hopes to misdirect their oilfunds is so abundantly abhorrent, there isn’t a tension to the narrative. The audience has nothing to consider other than will an Osage character die, how soon will they die, and will the evil people succeed in getting the money or will there be justice?
It plays out like a two-bit horror flick; not a poignant historical drama.

The flow of KotFM reminded me of Aronofsky’s Mother!. In Mother!, the audience is presented with an allegory about mankind, religion, and their relationship with our planet (“Mother Earth”). It slowly builds a torturous depiction of humanity and the audience mostly just wants it to end (or at least I did).

Other quick observations to note:
Scorsese has made hundreds of millions making violence and racism entertaining when done by east coast Italian-American or Irish-American characters. Now that he’s tackling a Central Standard Time storyline (flyover country), well, I guess violence and racism just isn’t as entertaining as it used to be.

Who is the protagonist? If you were to say it’s the main Osage character, Mollie Kyle (played by Lily Gladstone) who marries Leo DiCaprio’s character– due to the evil committed by her husband and in-laws, she spends most of the film bedridden and never truly has her moment of triumph.

About her being bedridden for much of the film, there are only a few scenes where the two main characters have meaningful conversations that go beyond the first act’s flirtations, and one of those precious scenes depicts the evil doer using modern medicine to push his disturbing plans.
I understand being truthful to the text and historical account, just odd in a post-covid world to hear the villain pushing modern medicine and for the audience to root for the heroine to reject modern medicine.

If you offer that the film’s protagonist is the FBI detective played by Jesse Plemons, it feels like his character isn’t even introduced until about the 2 hour 50 minute mark, giving his character only 35-40 mins to exist and he also doesn’t have a triumphant conclusion. Considering the history, it’s also kind of strange to position federal agents as advocates for Native Americans.

Unless you are determined to watch every Scorsese film, I recommend watching any of the “Films about Native Americans/First Nations” google search prior to watching this one.

Lost in Translation
(screened 7.27.23)

I’d like to end on a positive note.
The Paramount/State Theatre’s Summer Film Series screened Lost in Translation on 7.26.23 as a celebration for its 20th anniversary.
It was an excellent time warp.

There were a few disagreeable jokes made about Asian accents and such that wouldn’t pass today’s studios, but in the film’s defense, those poor-taste jokes were made by characters the audience is supposed to dislike. The “hero” and “heroine” of the film spend significant time immersing themselves in Japanese culture and nightlife.

That said, the film isn’t about celebrating Japanese culture, but about how someone recently out of college as well as someone who is more-or-less retired are both facing similar internal challenges.
Do I love my partner?
Am I in love with my partner?
What shared connections do I have in my life?
Am I happy with where my life is heading?
Has everything up until this point been one misstep after another? 
What does happiness look like today and what do I believe it will look like a few weeks, a few months, a few years from now? 

These existential and relatable dilemmas for these two very different characters are expertly exhibited; shown. If you ever took any sort of creative class, you’ve heard “Show. Don’t tell.”

Show us a situation that allows the audience to understand deeply personal quandaries; don’t just use expository dialogue to push the narrative.
Lost in Translation executes this perfectly.

It was refreshing to revisit.
I hope to review more refreshing experiences sooner than later.

Film Log #11 – 8.2023

Tuesday, August 15th, 2023

Vulcan Video died during Covid and I haven’t been particularly motivated to stream new-to-me classics. Thankfully, The Paramount Summer Classic Film Series as well as Austin Film Society’s programming have motivated me to return to the theaters.

1967’s Cool Hand Luke

Adapted from the 1965 novel of the same name, and unless you read it (unlikely), the audience brings very little context into their screening. If you’re familiar with Paul Newman, you’re aware of the talent and aura he can bring to a picture. For most younger contemporary viewers, all one brings is whatever they know about 1960s media productions based on 1950s American culture.

The film opens with an inebriated Luke Jackson (Newman) in a small southern town; presumably after the bars have closed. Luke takes a No. 2 pipe cutter to 2” parking meter pipes and cuts the meters’ heads clean off. He rewards himself with a beer after each parking meter head clunks on the concrete. When the cops roll up and authority shows its face and potential force, Luke behaves as though they were nothing but ladybugs resting on his shoulders.

The first act introduces us to a very specific type of man. This man of certainty and stubbornness. Regardless of circumstance– be it war (WWII), late nights in small towns, or on a chain gang– this man only knows one way to act, with very little regard for authority.

Maybe that’s not heroic, but we see so many characters (or people in our actual lives) mimic, ape, and contort themselves to make it through their days. It’s refreshing to see people/characters who are thoroughly authentic even when it absolutely doesn’t suit them and, in many cases, when it’s to their detriment.

Dragline (Top Dog inmate prior to Luke’s arrival): “You don’t listen much, do ya boy?”
Luke: “I hadn’t heard much worth listenin’ to. A lot of guys laying down a lot of rules and regulations.”

Throughout the first act, Luke wins over the men in the chain gang while also winning over the viewing audience. As the viewers and chain gang grow to support Luke, the authority figures’ concern about Luke’s motivational power and leadership grows.

Many, many similarities to One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, The Shawshank Redemption, and other films about conformist institutions and the rebels determined to break them come to mind. With so many of today’s discussions revolving around anti-heroes, it should be noted that Roger Ebert wrote, “I think he’s [Luke’s] more a willing martyr– a man so obsessed with the wrongness of the world that he invites death to prove to himself correct.”
That’s damned admirable.

The second act masterfully solidifies the bonds we have with Luke. There’s a particularly touching scene as his mother visits the chain gang’s quarters/prison camp. We see personal sides of Luke as he suffers heart-sinking sadness, excruciating indignities, and elating triumphs. It’s a film that puts its hooks in you and makes you feel, really feel for a character (provided you allow yourself to give a shit in the first place). 

Cool Hand Luke places us into an oppressive machine and points out the idiocy and injustice of it all. In the final scene of the film, Luke addresses God– 

“It’s beginning to look like you got things fixed so I can’t never win out. Inside [chain gang, military, etc], outside [as a “free” man], all them rules and regulations and bosses. You made me like I am. Just where am I supposed to fit in? Ol’ Man, I gotta tell ya. I started out pretty strong and fast. But it’s beginnin’ to get to me. When does it end?”

When I describe 60s and 70s cinema as subversive, this is what I’m talking about. He’s questioning religion, an individual’s function within American society, and obviously authority. This was commercially-successful pop art whose main message is that society’s rules and its status quo are terribly backwards. 

With awareness that it’s easier for audiences to connect with characters who share physical characteristics and have been through loosely similar sets of circumstances, I don’t come across too many contemporary characters delivering Luke’s lines–  “You made me like I am. Just where am I supposed to fit in?”

Today’s cinematic conflicts feel bonkers-fantastical or incredibly specific to the point that there’s a significant disconnect (with me). Granted, provided my background (admittedly, a demographic that dominated well over seven decades of American media), I understandably haven’t felt like the target market of a culturally relevant art-film for some time. But after anyone has been wrought through the ringer just for being true to themselves, who wouldn’t ask Luke’s final question? 

Chatter about Barbie

Before I write about The Age of Innocence (1993), Mr. Arkadin/Confidential Report (1955), F for Fake (1973), Kansas City Confidential (1952), Out of the Past (1947), Casablanca (1942), Lost in Translation (2003), Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969), or any of the other films that I have watched/rewatched lately, I should take a minute to speak on a film that has so much buzz that it must be addressed:  Barbie.

I haven’t seen it (and maybe I should just shut up– I know), but here are my thoughts before even viewing it. When I reviewed 2019’s Joker (in 2019), I wrote:

The thought I had going into the film was, “The Hollywood hype machine has made it seem that ever since movie studios have simply become creators of serial comic book blockbusters, that this particular film is what high art and Academy Award films are now destined to become.”
While watching the film, all I could do was pout, beg, and hope that this isn’t where art films (or films worthy of high praise) are headed.

To put it another way, we seem to be unable to tell stories without already knowing half the story before buying our tickets. This is a problem. Given that I’m hearing so much about a movie I’ll never even care about, this trend of not only having our shallow BIG TIME Summertime blockbusters built upon previously-established/borrowed/unoriginal content, but also our “high-brow, arthouse, Academy-considered” films are being pulled from similar content is troubling.
So, why is this an issue?

I’d argue that these films are lowering our ceiling of what powerful storytelling can/should be. I’m sure there are arguments that would counter by saying this maximizes our “powerful storytelling” capabilities because it serves a much, much larger audience and perhaps these films will serve as a gateway for many people to dive into Greta Gerwig’s (and other female auteurs’) films.

I get that using the “Barbie/Mattel Universe” as the vehicle to drive a message about the toxicity of the patriarchy we all live in is an easy way to bring this message to a large audience. I get that. However, it is possible to communicate this message without tethering it to a corporate doll. 

Furthermore, I don’t see too many Barbie fans deciding that they’re now going to see Frances Ha (2012, starring Gerwig and written + directed by her then boyfriend Noah Baumbach), or dive into Agnes Varda’s filmography, or what I’d argue are films actually representing female empowerment such as Gravity (2013) or His Girl Friday (1940) [two of my favorites].

What is going to happen is that there are reportedly 45 Mattel film projects in development based on products such as Barney, Polly Pocket, Bob the Builder, Uno, Hot Wheels, Magic 8 Ball, American Girl Dolls, Bass Fishin’, Rock’em Sock’em Robots, He-Man and She-Ra, and I’d speculate that Barbie is more likely to create fans of the Mattel media universe instead of actual “women-powered art films,” but does any of this even matter?

If it’s your optimistic viewpoint that we’re going to receive thoughtful films illustrating a meaningful viewpoint that will help us collectively gain a unique and more learned perspective through these dozens of Mattel Films– then the future looks very bright. As for me, my realistic pessimism will remain that just as I didn’t care for this entire corporation’s product line as a child, and regardless of how much financing and talent they throw at these projects–  I will care even less about these films that the Mattel brand is spawning. 

Maybe some people believe 2019’s Joker does a commendable job of depicting how mental illnesses affect people and we should all be more aware and sensitive of this issue? And perhaps 2023’s Barbie perfectly presents how women have to exist and fight within this suffocating patriarchy?
Those aren’t my experiences. I have, however, felt as though I’ve been wrought through the ringer and shared many of Luke Jackson’s sentiments.

“Sometimes nuthin’ can be a real cool hand.”

Film Log #10 – 3.2021

Tuesday, March 16th, 2021

During the early stages of covid-19 (April 2020), Vulcan Video, my local video store closed its doors. Since then, the entertainment industry has been undergoing substantial changes. The industry was already heading towards an exclusively streaming direction; covid-19 just gave it an unfortunate shove.

Packing up Vulcan Video

Gone are the days where I look forward to my 2-for-1 mid-week deals and have friendly conversations with knowledgeable staff about cinema while making a concerted decision about how I was to spend a specific evening.

What has replaced this is browsing various streaming services’ category of films that are approaching their streaming expiration such as HBO Max’s “Last Chance” section and watching however many worthwhile films before they depart (usually at month’s end).

This is a poor substitute for Vulcan Video, Austin Film Society, and The Paramount Theatre’s Summer Classic Film Series, but it’s what we currently have.

If you have read any of these posts before, it’s obvious that I have a predilection for classic films. I generally prefer most media (film, music, literature) that was created before the 1980s, but because The Oscars are approaching, I had relatively recently figured to give a few contemporary films a shot.

The Beach Bum (2019) – this doesn’t have anything to do with the upcoming Oscars, but it is relatively recent and I’ve been meaning to write about it.

McConaughey, playing a character named “Moon Dog” (it’s unclear if Writer/Director Harmony Korine intentionally gives the film’s lead the same name as respected experimental jazz musician Moondog, either way, odd choice) parades around south Florida in skiffs, tour boats, yachts, extravagant SUVs, sports cars, and other random vehicles performing a hedonistic, ‘let everything come what may’ type of journey.

But, I couldn’t attempt to call this a “journey” or a narrative. After Korine introduces the main characters, he awkwardly thrusts idiotic plot points at the audience and I’m not certain how the people involved in this production could believe an audience could care about any on-screen happenings.

The movie is directionless, pointless, awful. 

Watch it if you genuinely enjoy spending time with this type of cast on your screen regardless of any type of discernible story, character arc, intended meaning.

Nomadland (2020)

Frances McDormand portrays Fern, a recent widow who was committed to a community whose lifeblood was a gypsum plant. We meet Fern after her husband has passed and the gypsum plant has closed. We see a town in decay and a person at a crossroads.

However resilient she may be, Fern’s options look arduous and disheartening.

This film serves as a fairly powerful commentary on corporations that create and discard communities they deem disposable, American family dynamics and how financial gaps strain familial relationships, how the U.S. healthcare system doesn’t have much use for anyone without a secured, corporate salary (seasonal workers, gig workers, etc), and the trials/difficulties that come with living life on the road.

This film was something of a revelation for me.

Dave, played by David Strathairn, repeatedly tries to make inroads towards a friendship or romantic relationship with Fern, but is consistently kept at bay. A connection of sorts is created though as the characters continue to cross paths and keep in touch. 

How was this film a revelation for me? For perhaps twenty years now, there have been repeated calls for the entertainment industry to diversify their protagonists’ points of view. The criticism being, hasn’t our society seen enough films told from a white, male, heteronormative point of view?

My initial reaction to that criticism was, regardless of pov, I simply hope to watch something good.

‘Good‘ is subjective. POV is not.

That acknowledged, I can’t care about shallow, shitty films regardless of whose perspective/story is being told. However, it’s been awhile since I’ve seen a good film where I felt myself wanting to know way more about a tertiary character than the film’s lead. During the screening, I felt myself wanting to know more about Dave, Strathairn’s character, and it’s not complex calculus as to why that might be (gender/perspective has something to do with it).
I realized that what I was experiencing while watching Nomadland is what many non-white-heteronormative-males have been experiencing over the course of American mainstream cinema’s history.

There have been countless times where others have experienced, “I want to know more about that supporting character” or “why isn’t someone more like me driving the narrative?”

Due to my personal background paired with my proclivity towards classic cinema that tells stories from a very narrow demographica’s perspective, it is few and far between that I experience this feeling.

My recommendation:  Nomadland was good. I most likely won’t see it again, but it was an extremely worthwhile story that was expertly told.

Judas and the Black Messiah (2021)

Speaking of POVs, we come to a film whose only two named white characters are in supporting roles.

Judas and the Black Messiah is a film about Bill O’Neal’s (played exceptionally by Lakeith Stanfield) real-life relationship and conflicted involvement with the Chicago chapter of The Black Panthers.

To continue the discussion on perspective, the character that resonated with me was Stanfield’s O’Neal. This character was approached/preyed upon by the FBI to infiltrate and betray the Black Panther Party. If O’Neal didn’t do what the FBI requested [demanded] of him, O’Neal would be looking at years in federal prison.

Now, I haven’t been faced with a life choice like that before, but I’m very familiar with choices and options that range from “sucks” to “shitty.”

I don’t know many people that would identify with FBI Special Agent Roy Mitchell (played by Jesse Plemons) or FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover (Martin Sheen who doesn’t showcase putting on his jacket in a signature way in this film), but the people I do know would easily choose to see the film from the perspective of a passionate political revolutionary (Fred Hampton played by Daniel Kaluuya) or someone who is extorted and forced to survive primarily on self-interest (O’Neal).

That said, if you know your history, you knew where this story was heading. Still, this film is worthwhile for many reasons including the depiction of The Panthers’ attempt to unify and cooperate with street gangs, how the FBI was complicit in disinformation, assassination, and so much more during The Civil Rights Movement, as well as simply guiding the audience through a tough, powerful story about moving characters making principled stands or succumbing to outside pressures.   

I haven’t even touched on the production of this period piece, but almost for the music, cars, and clothes alone, I enjoy watching films like this.

I recommend. It puts a different perspective on “The Rat” trope usually associated with Italian mafia movies. Not only that, but I love the music, respect the subject matter, and believe that Lakeith Stanfield is a star. I can’t wait to see what’s ahead in his career.

Promising Young Woman (2021)

On this particular film log, we’ve covered some bases (gender, pov, subjectivity/objectivity, etc). We now come to intention versus execution. This film has its intentions displayed for all to see (rape and sexual assault are rampant, violent, terrible crimes that are carried out by supposedly “good” guys without any penalty or justice brought to the predators). There’s never a need to ask, “what is this film about?”

That’s not exactly a bad thing, unless the execution of the story becomes an issue.

To borrow a storytelling cliche, this story doesn’t unfold like “peeling back layers of an onion.” Rather, it takes the onion, then grabs your intermediary hammer you received after you outgrew the small one provided to you when you were seven-years-old and proceeds to periodically pound the onion every five minutes.

If you are looking for dynamic characters that are faced with challenges and undergo any type of growth or transformation, look elsewhere.

That said, this film tells its story worse than 2019’s Joker did (I mean that as an insult). I loathed Joker, but at least there was a backwards and twisted metamorphosis of the lead. In PYW, there is a very understandably upset woman on a mission and, though that mission was briefly sidetracked by an inexplicable 15-minute romance complete with the strangest “falling in love” montage that I’ve ever seen, the lead character’s path/arc is essentially a straight and downward trajectory.

While writing about Joker, I mentioned the revenge fantasy film Falling Down. Other than the odd inclusion of a far-from-needed romance, PYW plays out similarly to Falling Down (again, I mean that as an insult).

A quick aside about Bo Burnham’s performance, it’s as though he studied Rich Sommer’s reel from his portrayal as “Harry Crane” in Mad Men and “Alex” in The Office and decided to duplicate that schmucky, unwholesome “ahhh geez, I really like you but I’d really like to be in you” kind of character. He’s about as charming and likable as the title character. That’s saying something.

Speaking of likable characters, there are none.

MOWs (Movie of the Week) were an unavoidable aspect of television from the 1970s through early 1990s. Throughout my primary public education, these films were routinely shown. One that stands out in my mind was about a high school swim team that all got drunk together after celebrating a victory, then piled into a station wagon only to suffer a tragic death due to drunk driving.
These were more Public Service Announcements and less Oscar-nominated feature films.

PYW shares many similarities to any poorly executed MOW.

The intentions of most (all?) MOWs are usually good, but what makes an MOW an MOW is how blatant, shallow, unapologetically scripted, staged, and Styrofoam the narrative can be. I don’t see many differences in PYW. Intentions/meaning are important, but a project’s execution of the narrative is just as important.

While writing about Joker, I posited that “The thought I had going into the [Joker] film was, ‘The Hollywood hype machine has made it seem that ever since movie studios have simply become creators of serial comic book blockbusters, that this particular film is what high art and Academy Award films are now destined to become.’
While watching the [Joker] film, all I could do was pout, beg, and hope that this isn’t where art films (or films worthy of high praise) are headed.”

After seeing that PYW has been nominated for FIVE Academy Awards, this seems terribly prescient and further reinforces my desire to keep contemporary cinema at arm’s length while embracing foreign and classic cinema. 

Contemporary films like The Beach Bum, Promising Young Woman, and the not-even-worth-writing about films like The Little Things (or the never-ending swarms of infantile blockbusters) make me feel more and more comfortable with digging further into historical film studies while paying very little attention to recent projects.

Recommendation for Promising Young Woman, google “women empowerment films” and watch any of those before this one.

Film Log #9 – 5.2020

Sunday, May 24th, 2020

In an effort to curtail my cycle of binge watching (and re-watching) programs available on streaming services, I’ve made a more concerted effort to support the local video store – Vulcan Video. Their mid-week 2-for-1 deal keeps me returning fairly regularly.
With that in mind, I figure I’d log a somewhat quick rundown of the films I’ve recently experienced (because, you know, there aren’t already enough people recreationally writing about movies).

Brendan Gleeson is an often over-looked actor. His contributions to Gangs of New York and Braveheart are certainly memorable, but it was his turn in In Bruges that really made me look forward to his future projects.

In Bruges is an excellent picture made by Martin McDonagh (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, Seven Psychopaths) whereas Calvary (2014), starring Brendan Gleeson was made by John Michael McDonagh; Martin’s older brother. Both brothers obviously enjoy shoot’em ups and violence, but where Martin does an excellent job incorporating deeper subjects and themes such as existentialism, morality, and romance into his tough-guy pictures, John Michael falls short.

Other than Calvary, I admittedly haven’t seen much of John Michael’s work, but Calvary seems to be an attempt to make a less humorous, less violent but unfortunately heavy-handed attempt at an overtly cerebral film. And that’s fine, the world needs cerebral films, but this movie never finds a rhythm and, though it has a few good scenes, the juice just ain’t worth the squeeze.

The movie takes place in a fictitious, unsavory Irish town where Gleeson plays Father James; a middle-aged man who joined the priesthood after his wife died.

Calvary begins with a threatening notice from a mystery character informing Father James that he will be murdered in one week. For my money, this type of narrative device rarely works. Why give us a plot point that the entire film balances on prior to revealing any character?

Anyways, as the film moves forward, we are drawn to, and sympathetic towards, Father James. The only thing that ultimately compelled me to stick out the narrative was to see the aftermath of the initial threat. Even then, the ending fumbled.

The film weighs the audience down for 102 minutes. The often despicable townspeople antagonistically question why any man would join the cloth after the Catholic faith has been disgraced by the hundreds of child abuse cases all while unabashedly displaying their own transgressions.

The trailer for John Michael’s The Guard doesn’t look particularly bad as it pairs Don Cheadle with Gleeson, but I’d still recommend brother Martin’s In Bruges or Three Billboards… before giving a John Michael project a shot.

Here is a well-written analysis of Calvary that provides a much more complimentary look at the film and though I understand where the post’s author is coming from, I simply felt the film’s execution is clumsy like a drunk and often communicates like a blithering drunk.

Even though I do like most of what Steven Soderbergh directs, I never saw this when it originally came out (2011). It’s currently available on HBO, and given the world’s present situation, I felt it was fitting to give it a go.

Generally speaking with Soderbergh films, they’re going to be good. Whether a trumped-up, celebrity-fueled caper like the Ocean’s series or a more thoughtful look at unique people and the challenges they face like Erin Brockovich (which looks at how concerned citizens and lawyers take on an industry that appears to be responsible for polluting regional water supplies) or narratives about wide-stretching issues and industries such as big pharma in Side Effects or the War on Drugs in Traffic, the movie is usually going to be well worth your time.

Soderbergh makes a conscientious effort to be unconventional and engaging. That acknowledged, he decided to make Contagion have the narrative not truly follow any particular character, opting instead to focus on the disease itself. The fictitious disease that feels all too real seems to be the main character. For a film about a fast-spreading and fatal pandemic to follow any one particular character would be difficult. That said, Contagion attempts to provide insight at how “regular” folks, political/media types (including fringe political/media types), as well as medical experts would conduct themselves during a world-changing pandemic.

The fictitious pandemic featured in Contagion is certainly far more cataclysmic than what mankind is currently dealing with, but the film does give us an idea of what a worse-case scenario pandemic looks like.

Again, the film is interesting, but the narrative is lacking. The storyline of each character, there are many, only provides a glimpse of what each is dealing with and allows the audience to, more or less, complete the narratives in our heads. This is fine, but it does leave us wanting.

It’s hard to determine whether the film is good or bad, instead, I’ll opt for interesting. Having been released nine years ago, it was interesting to see a dramatized portrayal of hypothesized protocols that politicians, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the World Health Organization, and other organizations respond.

There really aren’t any spoilers to a film like this, but it is interesting to note that pigs that have consumed bat droppings in Asia are the cause of this fictitious pandemic.

If you’re curious about how the gears of a pandemic and the governmental response work, this would be a worthwhile experience.

Last November, I wrote about how during my first viewing of Nashville, I was reminded of some similarities to Short Cuts. It’s true, there are definitely similarities between the two films, but where Nashville captured confusion, frustration, and possible shame of a generation + the 1975 American zeitgeist, Short Cuts seems lost and self-indulgent by comparison.
Maybe that’s the point? 1960s brought on an acceleration of “change” or perceived change, 1970s attempted to make adjustments, 1980s became the decade of self-interest, and the 1990s seemed to have elements of everything that came before but with added complex internal conflicts and confusion (shoot, those decade summations seem obvious if you only study pop music).

Short Cuts, made in 1993, include some terrific individual performances, but the overall project tends to drag and portions of the strewn-about storylines are unneeded. Though it’s fun to see Jack Lemon, Tim Robbins, Robert Downey Jr., and many more all work together, this film ultimately doesn’t resonate. The payoff one is hoping for fizzles down the stretch.

I’m bias, but the best scenes include Tom Waits + Lily Tomlin or Julianne Moore. Tomlin plays a waitress who is ogled by customers and Waits plays her limo-driving, hard-drinking husband. The two work together remarkably well and provide a very convincing look into a troubled relationship.

Since the film is based on Raymond Carver short stories, most of the relationships featured are troubled and Julianne Moore delivers the best central performance in this regard.

Final recommendation is, watch Nashville before checking out Short Cuts. If you love Nashville and want to see something relatively similar, give Short Cuts a shot. Both films are representational of their eras and the 70s might just be more compelling than the 90s.

Circling back to Tom Waits, I’ve enjoyed his music since 2003. Rarely do I march through an entire discography, but I have with his music. Though his film credits are few and far between, I’ve made a more concerted effort to watch his films recently. This YouTube short helped spur that:

I’ve seen many of those films, but it truly has been too long since I’ve seen Down By Law and I’ll be screening that one again soon.

First off, this sad film only gets sadder. Ironweed, released in 1987, takes place in Depression-era Albany, New York and features Meryl Streep and Tom Waits as terminally-ill vagrants. Main character Francis Phelan, played by Jack Nicholson, is an alcoholic homeless man who lives a life of regret and not-very-well-masked shame.

It’s not a date movie. It’s not a fun movie. The film moves at a fairly slow pace. You know full well that there’ll be no happy endings and you have to go into the experience with the expectation of watching two masters of their craft, Nicholson and Streep, go to work. For all of these reasons, this film isn’t celebrated.

However, if you care about all-time actors working their tails off and you’re the type that “appreciates the craft” of acting, this is one to watch. It’s a gut-punching, tear-jerking character study.
That, or maybe you’re curious how well Tom Waits carries himself next to Nicholson + Streep like I was.

Giant (1956), Hud (1963), and The Last Picture Show (1971) create a powerful trio of Texas films that all weave the plight of rural/small town communities/families with industrial and cultural swings. Later, I’ll have a post that’ll go a little more in-depth on these films, but we’ll focus on the middle brother of the pictures for now.

Hud hit me a little strange. I was expecting a lovable figure that Newman excels in playing like in Cool Hand Luke or The Hustler. What I got in return was a charming jerk whose charm deteriorated as the film progressed.

Hud focuses on the relationships within the Bannon household: Hud Bannon, Homer Bannon (Hud’s father), Lonnie Bannon (Hud’s 16 year-old nephew – his parents aren’t present), and the housekeeper Alma Brown.

The film uses these relationships to tug and pull Lonnie, as well as the audience, towards Homer’s ceaseless virtue or Hud’s horn-dogging recklessness.
The cards are all laid out on the table after Homer + Hud have a row, then Lonnie attempts to defend Hud. Homer, reacting to his grandson’s defense of Hud, delivers the best line I’ve heard in a good, long while, “Little by little the look of the country changes because of the men we admire… You’re just going to have to make up your own mind one day about what’s right and wrong.”
Truer words never spoken.

These weighty words are why I watch classic cinema. I’m reminded of an April 2012 post, when I first began to review classic Paul Newman films: The Hustler and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. These films also forced audiences to wrestle with topics such as virtue, honor, mendacity, acceptance, self-worth, and other difficult subjects. It’s not that these topics are no longer included in today’s cinema, but today’s culture is much more fragmented and today’s narratives reflect that.

Contemporary dramas that tackle challenging subject matter don’t position the crux of their work on “universal truths.” Instead, the challenges and conflicts in current artistic cinema are very specific topics such as how parents cope with the death of a child, substance abuse, coming to terms with one’s own sexuality, or the like.
That’s not to say that the issues in the classic Paul Newman films were “one size fits all,” but it is to say that these films concerning matters such as overarching morality + a man’s place as one generation gives way to another (Hud), the search for what drives an individual and how to make a career/life out of that passion (The Hustler), or the existential dilemma of how to live and function in a society that seems not worth engaging in (Cat on a Hot Tin Roof – I know Tennessee Williams’s play differs from the film insomuch that the film deleted almost all subtext of a homosexual relationship between Brick and Skipper, but the film focuses on mendacity; not sexuality) –– all these themes fit larger audiences than what most contemporary artistic films provide.

Good or bad, today’s blockbusters don’t say anything and the “art” or “indie” pictures say something that’s so damn specific. There was a time when quality films both were great successes at the box office while also fulfilling critics’/society’s needs for “high art.”

I would be remiss to not include a word about Patricia Neal’s portrayal as Alma Brown. Her performance garnered an Oscar (same with Melvyn Douglas’s performance as Homer Bannon) and it’s easy to see why. Neal injects a pleasant and much-needed leveling of the hostility and stubbornness that permeates every father-son scene.

Unsurprisingly, Alma is respected by everyone except Hud. Alma’s presence further exposes Hud for the cad that he is which contrasts Homer’s integrity. Her grace, wit, perseverance, and resourcefulness are an exceptional breath of fresh air that counters Hud’s overall unpleasantness.
As an added note, having been born and raised in Kentucky, it doesn’t seem as though she had to adjust her natural accent all that much as she perfectly handled the panhandle accent better than any other principal actor.

Though I do recommend Hud, if uninitiated with Paul Newman, I’d start with Cool Hand Luke or The Hustler before watching Newman embody the increasingly negative force of a film. He does an excellent job, but I believe it’s important to establish an understanding of Newman’s more established persona before seeing his darker side.

This post should conclude with another mention of Homer Bannon’s quote:

Little by little the look of the country changes because of the men we admire…. You’re just going to have to make up your own mind one day about what’s right and wrong.

Film Log #8 – 4.2020 (the one about Marilyn Monroe)

Monday, April 6th, 2020

In an effort to curtail my cycle of binge watching (and re-watching) programs available on streaming services, I’ve made a more concerted effort to support the local video store – Vulcan Video. Their mid-week 2-for-1 deal keeps me returning fairly regularly.
With that in mind, I figure I’d log a somewhat quick rundown of the films I’ve recently experienced (because, you know, there aren’t already enough people recreationally writing about movies).

After having been so fascinated by Marilyn Monroe in The Asphalt Jungle (1950, directed by John Huston), I went ahead and rented two more of her pictures: Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953, directed by Howard Hawks) and River of No Return (1954, directed by Otto Preminger).

I should have known better than to watch a comedic musical in GPB, but because of its iconic status as well as being a landmark for Monroe, I gave it a go. It’s funny when looking at how drastically our culture changed between My Man Godfrey‘s release in 1936 and GPB in 1953.

This isn’t to say that all comedies in a given era are the same, but it is interesting to point out that as the nation/world was struggling to bounce back from economic collapse, we have a movie about a “forgotten man” who carries the film by outsmarting and comically jabbing at the wealthy.
Seventeen short years later (and a conclusion to a world war that placed the U.S. as the foremost superpower) provides a musical comedy about two showgirls each having a goal to marry a specific kind of man. Monroe’s character, Lorelei Lee, has a single requirement– that the man be rich. Jane Russell’s character wishes to marry a tall, dark, handsome, and athletic man.

GPB continues down its path of gags and songs and I simply wasn’t up for it. There are small issues that bothered me, but the main issue is that the entire film is a celebration of superficiality. Maybe that’s the point or the joke, but where My Man Godfrey succeeds by Godfrey (as well as the father character) taking shots at the expense of self-indulgence and importance placed on the superficial, the main characters of GPB are celebrated for using cunning tricks to weasel out of any jam that their superficial desires put them in.

Perhaps it would’ve been humorous to watch that film with a date in the 1950s and begin the post-film conversation with, “Can you believe those people?” But as the earth has circled the sun 67 times since this film’s release and as I’ve seen this film’s influence evolve to iconography, this isn’t a funny joke.

Perhaps I’m placing too much blame on the shoulders of a single film that I’m certain meant well while the project was in production, but holy crap is it depressing to watch a significant historical film and have the “benefit” of reflecting on what happens when generations try to emulate a particular horrible character (or whatever a particular generation’s iteration of Monroe’s Lorelei Lee is)?
Many folks talk about rampant stupidity in our society and reference Mike Judge’s 2006 film Idiocracy (a film about a “regular guy” who, by accident, travels into the future and finds a ridiculously dumb society). Often times, art provides us the very time machine we’re looking for and it’s incredible to see what worked and resonated with audiences in the 1950s has created the modern blueprint of how to make wildly and financially successful motion pictures (or even TV shows).

Though GPB plays like a 90-minute tongue-in-cheek joke, it’s hard not to come across certain people (or shows) and feel as though they didn’t understand that the movie was satire. Yet, here we are.

Monroe isn’t ever without her appeal; I just don’t care for this character (much like I don’t particularly care for musicals). But as it is, this film is historically important. If historical importance is meaningful to you, then I recommend this film.

River of No Return didn’t thrill me for an entirely different reason. Once again, Monroe plays a showgirl/singer (and for some reason, we’re inexplicably subjected to three songs) for saloons and casinos in the 1870s American West. Where Monroe played a comical victim of her own character’s desires in GPB, she plays a woman who becomes a victim by the actions of her husband as well as the setting/era/circumstances.

Both Robert Mitchum’s (Mitchum doesn’t begin the film as Monroe’s husband, but is obviously her eventual romantic interest) and Monroe’s characters have their own challenges to overcome, but with it being a Western, the story is able to throw in elements of natural danger anytime it chooses to.
Mitchum’s character, Matt Calder, is challenged by raising his young son while attempting to settle land that will one day be passed on as well as providing an explanation for why Calder was in prison for the the first few years of his son’s life.

Monroe’s character, Kay, has to come to terms with the fact that her husband is a slimy, greedy, miserable male. Those traits are juxtaposed with all the exemplary qualities the Matt Calder displays– and there’s your movie.

What I don’t understand is how two-dimensional Kay’s husband/ex-husband is in the film and how the audience is supposed to immediately understand how this marriage ever came to be. I understand marriage was quite a different agreement/arrangement in those days, but the film leads the audience to believe that there was love in the relationship to begin with, which, I’m the type of viewer that has to see that (I’m not just going to assume that).
But, then again, this is a 1950s Western whose runtime is 90 minutes and they’ve got an awful lot of drama, action, and adventure to pack into that time.

It would be terrible to not mention the exceptional views the film provides (the critics of the time commented on how it was almost too much to bounce back ‘n forth between the the mountains + Monroe).

Last note– Monroe clearly worked with the industry’s best in the tragically short time she had. I’ve seen three of her films. All have been directed by cinematic titans: John Huston, Howard Hawks, and Otto Preminger.

In the end, the movie was good. I didn’t quite buy Monroe as a settler in The Great American West, but the film was entertaining nonetheless.
This is a take-it-or-leave-it recommendation.
I know there are better Westerns.
I know there are better Mitchum films.
and I believe there are better Monroe films.

Film Log #7 – 3.2020

Monday, March 23rd, 2020

In an effort to curtail my cycle of binge watching (and re-watching) programs available on streaming services, I’ve made a more concerted effort to support the local video store, Vulcan Video. Their mid-week 2-for-1 deal keeps me returning fairly regularly.
With that in mind, I figure I’d log a somewhat quick rundown of the films I’ve recently experienced (because, you know, there aren’t already enough people recreationally writing about movies).

This is a case of the trailer being much, much better than the actual film. Though there were some comedic moments, and even with the knowledge that it is a dark comedy, this movie fell flat.

Even with the film flat-lining, I did appreciate Alessandro Nivola‘s performance. Nivola has delivered meaningful contributions to American Hustle and Face/Off among others, but his role in The Art of Self-Defense appears to be his largest role to date.
I certainly hope the actor continues to be given more advanced roles.

Even with some pretty good performances, I don’t recommend this one.
It’s not completely terrible, but it is below-average, and I won’t be seeing it again.
Whether or not I will make an effort to re-watch the film is my baseline of whether or not I will recommend.

Nicholas Winding Refn‘s films to date make me curious. On one hand, he drove a project that I believe succeeded on nearly every level in Drive (yeah, I bet it’s predictable that I would like that film). On the other hand, he seems to make films that are lost when he’s left on his own to create the narrative (Drive was adapted from a novel).

I haven’t seen Only God Forgives (Refn’s second collaboration with Ryan Gosling) based in part to the mostly poor reviews paired with the fact that the lead, played by Gosling, has a grand total of 17 lines. I’m no stranger to silent films, but even some of the more complex silent films have text cards to help with the exposition and story of those films. Refn instead opts to showcase his vision and not be all that concerned with crafting a story or narrative.

I always bring up the point that before an audience can care for a character, we have to at least know the character (at least a little bit). Unveiling who the characters are can easily be botched. There are no certain rules for how to do it well. Most of the time, if you hit the audience over the head with a sledgehammer in regards to character, it won’t work. In The Neon Demon‘s case, we simply don’t know anything more that’s not surface level (maybe that’s part of the point?).
When character is thoughtfully revealed and the audience is able to ascertain concrete truths about the character (or, at minimum, pique our curiosity), that’s when I’ll actually be invested in what actions or plot points take place.

I think back to 2004 when I came across the worst example of a film simply using shocking images to manipulate an audience to care about on-screen happenings and/or characters. This particular film, The Butterfly Effect opens with children beating, torturing, and eventually killing animals.
Before the audience is aware of any character’s name or what the setting is, we’re simply subjected to shocking behavior.

Why do I bring this up? Though The Neon Demon does take its time to deliver some shocking images in the third act, we still don’t truly know anything relevant or below the surface about these characters.

Refn definitely has a vision. That’s his strength. I rented this film based on some stills I came across (I should really stop doing that):

The Neon Demon is problematic for many reasons– I speculate that one of the reasons he made his first film from a women’s perspective is because he simply never had before, and, perhaps, he took some criticism because of that. What’s unfortunately insulting is that when he finally makes a woman-centered film, he makes one about models and the only real, and I mean truly meaty dialogue that takes place is still between two men.

Enter the previously mentioned Alessandro Nivola:

Nivola excels at playing Roberto Sarno (peculiarly uncredited– the man has more lines than nearly ever other male in the production and is, for some reason, uncredited– that’s very rare), a pompous fashion designer. Three models sit alongside Sarno when the main character Jesse (played by Elle Fanning) and her male friend Dean arrive.
A discussion about beauty bubbles up. Everyone of course defers to Sarno. Dean attempts to say that there is more than skin-deep beauty in Jesse, which prompts Sarno to respond with, “Well, if she wasn’t beautiful, you wouldn’t have even stopped to look.”
This takes place in the middle of the second act.

The film’s first act does provide a women’s restroom conversation that does have weight, but any goodwill the film earned by having that insider glimpse into the catty and competitive world of attractive women is quickly squandered.

The first two acts of the film lead one to believe that the film is going to drive home some idea about beauty and ambition being a prison of sorts (especially for those in the fashion and modeling industry).
That’s at least what I was hoping for… and then the damn wheels fall completely off in the third act.
It went totally bonkers, and might as well have been children torturing animals. Cannibalism, models taking blood-soaked showers, and necrophilia all turn a relatively slow-paced psychological thriller into a barn burner of insanity and senselessness.

This is a very easy recommendation that you pass hard on The Neon Demon as well as a very easy recommendation to watch Drive if you haven’t already.

Let’s return to sanity.
Paris Blues is not for everyone. If you’re looking to take a trip back to an over-the-top and romantic view of 1961 Paris with Duke Ellington and Louis Armstrong providing the soundtrack and Sidney Poitier, Paul Newman, Joanne Woodward, and Diahann Carroll providing the romance, well– then this is your film.

As a tremendous fan of Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, and Paul Newman, I felt like I absolutely had to see this film. That said, I wasn’t knocked out by it. It had its moments and it told a very good story. But in the end, the film didn’t sit or resonate with me.

It was simply a mostly pleasant look at jazz, Paris, and short-term romance.

The film was adapted from a book by the same name. The book, however, told a story of two interracial couples. It being 1961 and such, the studios adjusted (much to the chagrin of the film’s stars). The picture still ended being just fine, though it obviously would’ve been more groundbreaking had the project been a more accurate interpretation of the book.

This is a take it or leave it recommendation. I might see it again, but I’m not hustling out to add it to my collection or anything like that. There are better films from the 1960s and as I watch more jazz-centric films, I hope to find better jazz movies.

Chopper is good enough, but not great. Why I’m chomping at the bit to write about it is because of its director– Andrew Dominik.

Back to Chopper, Eric Bana plays a hard-ass Australian convict/career criminal. The film has a better-than-average story, a pretty good pace, a lil bit of humor and a lil bit of violence. That sounds like a good recipe for a film and the end product is just that.

Perhaps it was the pre-9/11 production or maybe because I saw this director’s other films prior, but this film ended up simply being “pretty good” whereas his other two American-made features (The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford & Killing Them Softly) are outstanding.

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford is a criminally overlooked film. The cast selection and their performances are perfect. The crafting and shooting (by DoP Roger Deakins no less) is impeccable. If there is a film to recommend, it’s this one.

I can go round and round about how often I feel like I should simply give this film another screening as opposed to trying something new. Clearly, it’s an old standby of mine.

The depth and subject matter continues to resonate.
The eclectic cast (Brad Pitt, Mary-Louise Parker, Casey Affleck, Jeremy Renner, Sam Rockwell, Paul Schneider, and Sam Shepard) and their dynamic performances hit me every time.

The film does not have a track-star pace. Instead, it’s a slow cooking pot roast that produces a savory and worthwhile flavor every time. We see Brad Pitt as Jesse James wrestle with his mortality, the skeletons hanging over him, as well as the toll that hiding from the government is taking. We also see Casey Affleck as Robert Ford portray a man who has never received an iota of respect in his entire life and is clearly envious and desperate to make a name any way he can.
This is truly a fascinating and beautiful film. It’s a damn shame that Pitt and the project as a whole didn’t get as much critical acclaim as they should have.

Onto Killing Them Softly.

Brad Pitt plays an assassin in this film that brilliantly weaves modern-day politics into the sordid business of killing people for profit. Whether it’s addressing that even the mafia has fallen victim to an HR mentality or that the streets are simply more kinder and gentler than they used to be, this film is definitely smart and entertaining.

Once again, it’s expertly cast– Pitt, James Gandolfini, Scoot McNairy, Ray Liotta, Richard Jenkins, and Ben Mendelsohn.
And again, the story provides a great mix of humor, violence, and the pace is perfect for my taste.

All of this is to say that Andrew Dominik is an outstanding filmmaker. Those are his three full-length features, but he’s also been a huge part of the Netflix series Mindhunter (which I do have some criticisms about, though I mostly enjoyed), as well as the music documentary One More Time with Feeling about Nick Cave (a film I’ll be seeing soon).

I say that I’d recommend The Assassination of Jesse James first, then Killing Them Softly, and if you like both of those, I see no reason why you wouldn’t go ahead and watch Chopper.

There was a ten-year period of my life (roughly from 1998-2008) when I’d simply purchase used films that I’d never seen before based on the price + critical reception of the film. Sideways was one such film.
I must have purchased this movie for about $6.99 in lieu of renting it for $3.99 or thereabouts.

Anyhow, I recently revisited it and it was just as good as I remembered. It’s a fantastic look at male self-destruction and self-loathing as well as an attempt to find honesty and romance in a world that can sometimes seem as though it’s constructed by shit bricks on a foundation of deceit.
There’s also a quality blend of romance and comedy; it’s simply an entertaining and thoughtful film.

And, of course, there are tremendous moments of heart that are spurred on by wine as well as an abundance of amazing views.

I obviously recommend it if you haven’t seen it.

Film Log #6 – 3.2020

Friday, March 20th, 2020

In an effort to curtail my cycle of binge watching (and re-watching) programs available on streaming services, I’ve made a more concerted effort to support the local video store – Vulcan Video. Their mid-week 2-for-1 deal keeps me returning fairly regularly.
With that in mind, I figure I’d log a somewhat quick rundown of the films I’ve recently experienced (because, you know, there aren’t already enough people recreationally writing about movies).

As a child, I was initially introduced to William Powell by Warner Bros. cartoons (Merrie Melodies & Looney Tunes – see below).

For some reason, these caricatures resonated with me and, early on, I had made it a point to be in on the joke as well as understand why these actors were regarded as they were. William Powell’s name popped up many times in the film texts I read, but, honestly, I generally hadn’t gone out of my way to watch comedies a whole lot; even if they were classics.

However, on a recent trip to Alamo Drafthouse, they were promoting a special screening of 1936’s My Man Godfrey. The trailer looked very entertaining and the subject matter was definitely in my sweet spot.
Powell plays Godfrey, a quick-thinking, fast-talking “forgotten man” (euphemism for “homeless”) living near a bridge on the East River in Manhattan who is attempted to be picked up by a rude debutante looking for a “forgotten man” to complete her scavenger hunt.

Godfrey complies only after choosing to help a kinder debutante, Irene, instead of Irene’s insulting sister, Cornelia. Upon helping Irene win the scavenger hunt, Godfrey is asked to address the crowd. He responds with, “My purpose in coming here tonight was two-fold: firstly, I wanted to aid this young lady. Secondly, I was curious to see how a bunch of empty-headed nitwits conducted themselves. My curiosity is satisfied. I assure you it’ll be a pleasure to go back to a society of really important people.”
The “society of really important people” being his community of “forgotten men” living in shanties.

His appearance at the scavenger hunt ends with job offer. He was hired to “buttle” for the very affluent Bullocks. The film then makes its obvious progression and I can’t help but enjoy most of it. It plays out more like a terrific theatrical performance than a cinematic achievement, and that’s understandable given its era.

When interviewed about Dr. Strangelove, William H. Macy said, “When making a comedy, if you’re not careful, the actors will start ‘being funny,’ and what any good director knows is that it’s not an actor’s job to be funny; that’s the writer’s job. The script is funny or it’s not funny. It’s the actor’s job to be truthful, and then the humor will come out.”

As I previously wrote, most comedies are concepts without a legitimate script. They start as an idea, such as, “what if these guys were ice skaters” or “on an ABA basketball team” and so forth. The project continues and eventually they have a few pages and plot points, but the hope is that they assemble a few funny people in a room, play off one another, and after a few takes, someone says something like “I love lamp” and no one during the filming is sure which ad-libbed lines are going to resonate with the audience until the film hits theaters/streaming services/cable broadcasts.

But My Man Godfrey feels and resonates like an Oscar Wilde piece. It’s critical of the affluent day-to-day lifestyle and social events on more than a superficial level. And because I’m terribly hard on films that are so entirely far-fetched and unbelievable, I’ll easily admit that this one is too. The pass that I’m giving it is based on historical significance, intelligence, criticisms of class/status, and a few other reasons.
Whenever I grow weary with contemporary films that seem as though every aspect and situation of the film is frankly unbelievable, those films compound that be feeling by coming off, in the words of Godfrey, as “empty-headed.”

You can find My Man Godfrey streaming on youtube here.
I do recommend it, but you’ll have to prepare yourself. Going directly from watching 2020 comedies to something made in 1936 will be a little jarring, but it is certainly well worth it.
Anyhow, I enjoyed it. I’ll most likely watch it again down the road.

That french line included on the above poster translates to “A formidable thriller in line of Heat.” Perhaps it’s never a good idea to include any mention of any other film on the promotional materials for a new movie because every time one resorts to conjuring up another title, they’re essentially saying that this is a “poor man’s version” of the other title.

But even that would be a stretch. I saw this film 10 years ago when it originally came out. I may have had a few drinks while watching it the first time 10 years ago or I may have been itching to see some kind of “shoot’em up” and simply forgot how dull the film is.

I like Jeremy Renner when he’s not playing scuzzy trash, tolerate Ben Affleck when he’s not playing a hopeless romantic, and look forward to a future when Jon Hamm will be able to play something other than a federal agent. Unfortunately, this film includes all of those things.

The romantic interest between Affleck and Rebecca Hall is particularly bunk. If there ever were a case of men being “allowed” to have three-dimensional characters while women are always pushed to the sidelines and simply play flat nobodies without a shred of dynamism, this would be quite the example.
That’s not to say that the men’s characters are particularly well-shaped and formed, but hell, they’re certainly more developed than the two female leads.

Yeah, I know, “it’s a bank robbery film” and arguably, to call back to Heat (one of my favorite bank robbery/caper films), the worst scenes in that film all include Val Kilmer’s love interest– Ashley Judd, and if I were to be extremely critical of that film, the scenes including De Niro’s love interest also were not good. It would, however, be a failure to not also point out that some of Heat‘s best scenes include Pacino with his love interest played by Diane Venora (pictured below).

With it being acknowledged that it can be difficult to squeeze in a meaningful love story into a robbery/caper film, how is it that The Asphalt Jungle (1950) and so many other film noirs were able to do so?
I think that’s what my film study ends up pointing out– cinema used to have a lot more heart. Or maybe I’m just a sap?

In any event, this film, The Town, that I had hoped was going to be a quality shoot’em up, was simply barely tolerable and, if you’re jonesing to see men dressed up as nuns shooting at cops, I propose you stream this one and fast-forward through the failed attempts at story crafting.

Note: there are many benefits to film study. One is, as previously mentioned while talking about the cartoons portraying William Powell, to always be in on the jokes, homages, nods, repurposing, etc.
I noticed The Town paid quite a few tributes to The Friends of Eddie Coyle.
M.G. McIntyre of Film School Rejects writes:

The Town, Ben Affleck’s 2010 ode to Boston and bank robbery, bears more than just a passing resemblance to Yates’ film, despite being based on a different book. Slicker, faster, more overwrought perhaps, yet there are several scenes taken wholesale directly from  Eddie Coyle. The bank hostage forced to walk, blindfolded, toward the shores of the Mystic River, in a wide panorama. The unsettling vacancy of rubber-masked eyes. The penultimate scenes take place at a Boston sports stadium. Affleck’s film takes its cues more from action films, but a straight line can be drawn from  Eddie Coyle  to the modern reinvention of Boston as a crime film location ripe for new stories.

Anyhow, even though I didn’t love either of these films (The Town + Eddie Coyle), it’s interesting to note the connections they share.
I recommend you either pass on this film or speed through it (if you’re looking for a quality action scene or two).

Due to SXSW’s cancellation, Vulcan Video made an early call to host an outdoor screening for any interested filmmakers that had planned to screen at the festival. The team that made The Mystery of the Pink Flamingo took up Vulcan’s offer.

The filmmakers created a funny and interesting way to present a documentary. They crafted a narrative that allowed them to interview these outlandish and eccentric characters all sharing an affinity for kitsch and the outrageous, but did it under the guise of a curious party, Rigo, searching for the answer to the question, “What makes the pink flamingo such a unique, interesting, and beautiful bird?”

That leads Rigo to interview an assortment of folks in both Europe and the U.S., most notably Baltimore-based director John Waters, to get many thoughts on topics such as individuality, style, flamboyance, and, of course, flamingos.
What was so darn refreshing was the entertaining narrative woven around a film that is essentially 90+ minutes of 7+ interviews. Through the many documentaries I’ve watched, I’ve often thought that whether or not I cared for the subject matter, the presentation was flat and not particularly engaging. In The Mystery of the Pink Flamingo, I cared more about the presentation and style than I did the subject matter.

Though I most likely won’t ever see it again, the film was highly entertaining and I do recommend it.

Film Log #5 – 3.2020

Thursday, March 19th, 2020

In an effort to curtail my cycle of binge watching (and re-watching) programs available on streaming services, I’ve made a more concerted effort to support the local video store – Vulcan Video. Their mid-week 2-for-1 deal keeps me returning fairly regularly.
With that in mind, I figure I’d log a somewhat quick rundown of the films I’ve recently experienced (because, you know, there aren’t already enough people recreationally writing about movies).

Jojo Rabbit – In order to speak critically about a film that uses the backdrop of World War II to illustrate how senseless fascism, war, and, hatred are, I have to address the concern that this specific era continues to be recycled.

I suspect that storytellers turn to this particular war because the story is already told for us. Very little explanation is required. A human sees a swastika and emotions are immediately triggered. This war eliminates the necessity of world building and stage setting. The chess (or checkers) pieces are easily laid out on the board and the game need not be explained.

This is what I find problematic– what used to be a touchstone of award-winning cinema was how films managed to tackle challenging storytelling and complex subject matter. Whenever I give contemporary cinema a chance, I’m finding weaker stories created by artists who are about as subtle as our politicians with unfortunately increasing frequency.

To return to the film at hand, simply put, I watched this film for Sam Rockwell, Scarlet Johansson, and the kid who plays Yorki (Archie Yates). Those three actors and their characters did not disappoint. They each took turns delivering the film’s best lines as well as its most satisfying moments while the lead did his best to pull us through his journey.

The lead, Roman Griffin Davis, doesn’t perform poorly, but his character certainly is overshadowed by everyone around him. I’m finding it tough to remember a time where I enjoyed a film whose main character was the fourth or fifth best character.

Final point: period pieces that are scored by anachronistic pop music torture me. Jojo Rabbit included The Beatles “I Want to Hold Your Hand” (1964), the Tom Waits original “I Don’t Want to Grow Up” (1992), Bowie’s “Heroes” (1977), and Love’s “Everybody’s Gotta Live” (1974).
Rarely do modern scores made specifically to accompany the setting and the era of the project work for me, but using a Tupac song in the middle of an industrial revolution film would be jarring and if you believe that’s ridiculous, then you haven’t seen classic rock used as the soundtrack to A Knight’s Tale.

After considering the lazy music choices, reliance on history to propel the narrative, and the lack of interest in the main character, I wouldn’t watch it again.

Without attempting to provide much context on the “big picture” motivations of why all these characters found themselves in the grotesque trench warfare of World War I, 1917 quickly enlists the audience on a dangerous mission. In a certain light, it felt similar to how some video games begin. Normally when I weave an aspect from a video game into a film criticism, that’d usually be grounds for an insult, but Sam Mendes and DoP Roger Deakins stunningly pull this off.

Speaking of Roger Deakins, I’ve already mentioned his work before. The man is arguably the best at his craft. All his films are impeccably shot and it doesn’t take long to realize you’re watching a project that he’s had his hands on.

As mentioned, the film plays out by following two young soldiers who have just been ordered to attempt a dangerous mission. Again, this might seem a little on the “ho-hum” side, but I assure you, this film is meaningful and adept at setting up a scene and delivering.
Also refreshing was the lack of history lessons between each act. This expository curse plagues too many history-driven or action-packed films and, yet, this film barely has any scenes featuring dialogue that feels more for the audience than any character actually in the picture.

I saw 1917 in the theater and it was well worth it. I’m up for watching it in a home theater, but I’ll definitely jump at an opportunity to see it in a large theater once again down the road. This is one to watch.

Have you ever caught yourself watching a show or film where you simply didn’t like any of the principle characters that you were choosing to watch for whatever reason? I imagine this happens when some people watch reality television (not sure, but it must? Right?).

I came across this scene on a film-centric Instagram account:

And, somehow, that’s all it took for me to rent Mike Leigh’s Naked.
That clip, surprisingly, was one of the more “pleasant” moments. This movie basically carried on as two hours and fifteen minutes of aggression, depression, and faux intellect.

It was simply terrible the whole way through. I didn’t believe the main character, Johnny, to be the misunderstood genius that he believed himself to be. There’s also a consummate prick – Jeremy – who is inexplicably injected into the movie to perhaps neutralize (or lessen the blows) any of Johnny’s social ills and out ‘n out shitty behavior, but instead turns the movie into a weird exhibition of how these two men terrorize these poor women who happen to live together (as well as whoever else’s paths they cross).

Sometimes cinephiles need a tough viewing. We’ll need a film that pushes our comfort levels and makes us reevaluate what exactly could be labeled as truly difficult to watch. Perhaps the film will later grow on me? I generally tend to enjoy art that prominently positions the British nihilistic streak found in a variety of art from the 1970s through the 1990s, but this film simply felt like watching two men destroy everything and everyone around them without any recourse.

It truly was difficult to watch.
I don’t believe that I’ll be interested to give it another shot. Ever.
I recommend you pass on this one unless you’re trying to really give your tastes a stretch.

A buddy of mine invited me to a screening of VHYES and I was happy to attend. For as difficult as it is to really enjoy full-length comedic features, I find sketch comedy to be a much more accessible method of enjoying comedy.

Most stand-up specials or comedy sets usually top out at about an hour. VHYES runs at 72 minutes.
I’m not sure why studios try to force some kind of narrative into all of these buddy-cop comedies or buddy-college guy comedies or ladies on a vacation comedies or dudes on a vacation comedies or funny guy dresses up like a lady comedies or funny guy dresses up like a whole family comedies or dudes magically go back in time comedies or mash two people from different cultures together comedies or culturally-specific comedies when it is so obvious that these films are generally built around two or three jokes.

If the folks that make full-length comedy features are happy about their two or three jokes and want to profit off them by unimaginatively constructing a film around those gags, I propose they do what the VHYES team did and simply find a creative way to make a sketch show and instead of serializing it and airing it on television, simply screen it at the theaters and stream it online.

That’s the way I prefer my comedy. The majority of films that attempt to be funny for 90+ minutes are generally terrible by most metrics. In defense of anyone’s proclivity towards full-length comedic features– yes, I have called the sheriff of the “fun police” before.

I enjoyed VHYES. I recommend it over watching 98% of full-length comedic features or re-watching two or three episodes of a comedy program you’ve seen a thousand times.
I’d gladly stream it if/when it’s available.

Recorder: The Marion Stokes Project is an interesting documentary about an intelligent but troubled woman who shut herself off to nearly everyone while she recorded and archived television for 30 years.

Marion Stokes made quite a few prescient decisions that grew her wealth and, at some point, this becomes a film about how wealth allows one to do pretty much whatever they want. Obviously, it’s more complicated than that, but only a wealthy person could use eight VCRs and TVs to record and document the media for 24 hours a day for over three decades.

As always, the most interesting question is why? That’s where this documentary shines.

Previously, I’ve pointed out that I’m rarely knocked out by documentaries, and that remains true here. This doc is perfectly fine and worthwhile, but what it boils down to is an 87 minute look at a peculiar and determined woman.

I’ll most likely never see it again and you can take it or leave it as my non-committal recommendation.