Thursday, April 11, 2013

as good as depressing gets

i got moved at work so my writing is going to get more secretive and much shorter. i'm like a spy behind enemy lines, squished next to important people, trying to continue doing something remotely movie-related.

amour, a few thoughts:

1. if i'd seen it last year it would've been the best film of '12. small, beautiful, a careful tabulation of death and what we do to get through the grief of it all. this film does not fuck around and when the credits rolled last night, a near-capacity audience sat in silence, awed by the emotion on display. someone tried to clap, and no one picked up the baton.

2. like Sideways was a film made for the forty-five plus set, this is a film made for any and all under the age of 60. it's such a probing, honest depiction of how hard it is to slowly die, i can't recommend it to anyone who's even relatively close to kicking the bucket in fear that it might leave them empty shells unable to move forward with the rest of their grey-haired lives.

3. i have list formulating in my mind called one-shots: great films i'll never see again. this is certainly one of them. a gut-punch in celluloid form, this movie splays you out over the coals before dropping a ten pound anvil on your genitalia. i loved this movie, but will die happily if i never see it again.

4. michael haneke is a genius. get over that. the film opens with front-facing shot of a crowd watching a performance. we the audience watch another audience watch us. it's a trick of the director's, showing us how hard it is to be watched, to have control over our audience, and it works especially well in this setting. we watch the crowd watch us and it drives home the point: this, what you're about to see is something that can, and will happen to you. this could be you in this film, slowly dying or watching someone else you love above all else slowly dying. you are as much the subject as you are the audience. it's terrifying.

5. this is a film built on small things. a hand touch, a problem pouring tea, a pigeon and a blanket. haneke doesn't try to wring drama out of the subject matter, he just lets what might happen, happen and because of this choice, you become a willing voyeur on the end of this couple's life. powerful shit.

if you haven't seen this film yet and aren't going to because someone said it was too sad or that it was depressing or a window on to life, those people are right, and you're a coward for avoiding honest-to-god near perfect filmmaking because of subject matter.

i bow my head in shame towards you.


criterion counsel: first podcast being recorded this weekend. i'm still mired in the first twenty minutes of the new film ... sigh ...

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

django unchained, a second viewing

i try to see every Quentin Tarantino film at The Castro in San Francisco. it's a big beautiful old theater with an organ player and the kind of ceilings that are 200 feet tall and inscribed with gold detail and an art-deco chandelier that hangs precariously over the audience. the type of place that you can watch Lawrence of Arabia one night and see Peaches Christ present Scream 4 another. it is, with out a huge amount of research, my favorite theater in the world. i once told CC that i'd move to The Castro only to be closer to the theater. 

Tarantino himself has claimed it to be his favorite theater in the world, and I had this in mind on Sunday afternoon when I sat down for a second viewing of last year's Southern masterpiece Django Unchained. I'm a huge fan of the film and have found myself in hotter critical water than I care to be at most times defending it against the slack-jawed, mouth-breathers who claim it to be insensitive or, and my blood boils just writing this, "racist". I'm easily wowed by quality filmmaking though and I thought maybe upon second viewing I might be able to better see what the dimbulbs of film viewing thought was true.

I was, happily, wrong.

A few thoughts on Django Unchained:

1. It is a major, major travesty that Jamie Foxx wasn't nominated for Best Actor at this year's Oscar ceremony. Foxx's portrayal of freed slave Django Freeman is one of the great portrayals of the hero-journey ever captured to film. What starts as a quest for violent retribution becomes the story of a changed man, it becomes the story of the end of slavery to be quite honest and Jamie Foxx, near silent in the film, wears the entire transformation on his face, in his body, in the sheer physical confidence he exudes throughout the film. Moments before the credits roll, when Jamie Foxx quite unexpectedly pulls out a few horse tricks atop Tony, his trustful steed, you know, this is a man done changed, and Foxx makes you believe every second of it.

2. This is not a racist film. This is not an insensitive film. This is a beautifully made bit of cinema that deftly foots the line between the humorous and the horrific. Yes, there are horrible moments (the mandingo fight at The Cleopatra Room the hardest for me) and yes at times they are sandwiched between moments of caustic humor and hard-fought action, but Tarantino doesn't use these to make the horror more palatable, he uses it to make the horror all the more terrible. By placing it in the context of a b-movie, he gives an easy, highly entertaining gateway for people to walk through, only to be buffeted by a great film that doesn't shy away from a terrible period in this country's history. This isn't a film making light of slavery, it's a film giving a broader access to the sheer horror of it all. It's good, solid, beautiful fun, with the darkest underbelly of all seething below it. 

3. The first time I saw the film I worried that it might be too long. That the dinner scene where Calvin Candie (Leonardo Dicaprio) goes crazy was too much Tarantino-speak, but on second viewing, it's a slow crank, a bit of real tension and unease that directly mirrors the atmosphere the audience must be feeling at this point. Our heroes aren't just locked away inside the 4th biggest plantation in Mississippi, more so they're locked in the South, surrounded by slavers and deeply racist, deeply violent people with little to no escape if their plan goes awry. The dinner scene is the tightening of the screw, each moment another build towards the shit hitting the fan and everything going wrong. Tarantino doesn't waste time, every moment of this film is important to the story, and every moment massively enjoyable.

If you haven't seen this film yet and are worried about gore or violence, buck up kiddies, this is a film people will be talking about when you're pushing 100. Get out there and see it or look back in ten years and say what was I thinking.


criterion counsel: kicked off film #130 ...

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Roger Ebert, RIP

Roger Ebert passed away today from complications with throat and salivary gland cancer.

I wish I was famous enough or an important enough figure in writing to say that without Roger Ebert I wouldn't be the writer I am today and for it to actually mean something. Regardless, it's true.

My brother loved Ebert and because I always tried to emulate my brother creatively I searched him out. I remember being infuriated that Ebert loved The Phantom Menace and that he didn't absolutely hate Tomb Raider (and that his review of the film focused almost entirely on Angelina Jolie's chest) but feeling like I'd finally stumbled across someone who really just wanted to express how great film was and how much it meant to him.

I had a weird routine for a while, I'd obsessively read about films I hadn't seen (still do) and then before adding them the first of countless lists of films to see I'd make in my life, I'd go to Ebert's website and see if he thought them worthwhile on scale of 1 to 4 stars. Depending on that the film would, or would not, end up on an almost endless list of films. He was my standard on which to base everything.

From reading Ebert I realized that writing about film was as big a passion as possibly making film and from this realization I realized that I just love writing.

I saw Ebert speak using his keyboard technology at The Castro one night. He was introduced by Terry Zwigoff and Philip Kauffman and Errol Morris and he was still the most riveting speaker of the night. My girlfriend and I stumbled in to the night after the speech and a screening of Julia completely awed, inspired to create, to watch films, to live our lives with the same vigor as this man did.

Drew McWeeney, to be quite honest, a worthy successor to the Ebert Throne wrote a lovely article about Ebert and just what sort of human being he was. It's well worth a read.

We lost a big one today film-lovers, we lost a big one.

we aren't ready for old movies

i had the pleasure of seeing Steven Spielberg's dinosaur-eating-Jeff Goldblum classic Jurassic Park in 3D on Tuesday night (and don't doubt it, JP is a masterpiece, the kind of action blended with pathos and pure cinematic joy we just don't see in these days of computer graphics). on one hand, i'm glad that the re-emergence of 3D is giving these old movies a chance to be seen on the big screen by lifelong fans and a whole new generation of snot-nosed brats. it's great and it's nice to think that somewhere in the million dollar confines of the Hollywood System, some relic of a film lover is actually using 3D to their benefit. 

that said, i don't think the general film watching public is ready for a return to the recent classics.

a few thoughts:

1. we aren't a culture that holds the movie theater in high esteem anymore. almost person I know (aside from myself and few other hold-over hipsters still trying to cling to the past) have 50-inch flat-screen televisions, occasionally rent a flick off onDemand but spend most of their screen-time invested in the lives of Honey Boo Boo and her ilk. Movie theaters are hassles - they're expensive, they involve removing our asses from couches, if the movie you've just paid half a week's wages for isn't good, your only option is to sit and stare not pop off the couch and play on your computer. the halycon days of holding the theater up as a place of cultural relevance are long, long dead. 

2. not to say that movies aren't still making dollars. the mouth-breathers of the world (and the 5 percent of truly respectful film-lovers who still make the weekly pilgrimage) still want to throw down 30 dollars on snacks and a ticket and watch Kristen Stewart punch the heads off vampires. which is fine, great even, but the problem exists when the general public ends up settling down in the hallowed halls of cinema still thinking they're at home, on their couch, hanging out with their flat-top wearing boyf. then it's chit-chat and iphone talking and all the other horrible ticks we as a culture continue to develop.

3. old films (and by old, I mean 15 or 20 years and beyond), in the eye of popular, modern culture aren't films to be held on a pedestal anymore, old films are seen as jokes. little windows in to outdated parts of culture. every time a cellphone of surprising proportion or some outdated computer program streamed across the screen, every one in the theater took a break from chatting with their date our updating their FB profile, to chuckle. the 90s, so funny! it didn't feel like for a moment that anyone in that theater was their to revel in just how good a film JP was or just influential and amazing a director Steven Spielberg used to be, they just wanted to see how old dinosaurs look funny.

4. point 2 + point 3 = eeeeeeeeek. now we have stupid people attending great old movies for the wrong reasons. and stupid people + wrong reasons = a horrible viewing experience. those deft film fans who brave the masses to see an old picture on the big screen are going to have a rude awakening when instead of respectful film lovers, there's an audience of slow-blinking dimwits laughing every time someone says something about the internet. it's embarrassing and makes it seem that maybe we as a culture aren't ready for old films in chain theaters. and honestly, we probably never wil.

5. this is good and this is bad. keeping revival screenings relegated to actual churches of theater like The Castro or The New Beverly promises a certain amount of respect, the kind of viewing experience we can only hope for. that said, relegating them to these fine art spaces, keeps them out of the hands and pea-pod minds of a public that desperately needs to see that there's something better out there. 

just a thought.


criterion counsel: still waiting on my next one. my new partner and i are recording our first podcast this weekend though ... 

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

we're back ... ?

after almost three years away from this epic quest and much prodding from an older, more ambitious sanders and finally overtaking the three carl th. dreyer films that derailed the whole damn thing in the first place - the criterion quest is once again in full effect.

there's talk of a podcast and the addition of a second sanders' brother and a new website and so on and so forth, but for the moment, let us just watch some old, crazy foreign flicks and smile.

hope there's even a few readers floating out in the ether ...


criterion counsel: just finished the somber, prison-escape drama Le Trou (#129) and am now eagerly awaiting the first czech film in the collection The Shop On Main Street (#130). THE QUEST ... IT HAS BEEN RESURRECTED! 

Friday, September 3, 2010

laid out.

i've been sicker than a dog the last day or so.  i blame faulty chicken or some sort of airborne death cloud but my life has been relegated to couch and toilet.  thus, the lack of writing and such and such.  i'm mildly better today, drinking water is only vaguely stomach-unsettling, and the thought of food doesn't break me out in sweat.

that said, i haven't been doing a terrible amount of thinking either.  instead i spent the day tangled in blankets on a couch watching odd episodes of the Inspector Clouseau cartoon series from the late 1960s and revisiting the still brilliant Up.

really, i wish my brain was functioning properly so i could write more, but it ain't, so we'll call this a short one.

enjoy labor day weekend.  hopefully i'll be in full fighting fitness by tuesday.

Monday, August 30, 2010

watch this: CATFISH

friday was a bit poor in terms of my scheduling.  i'm in the midst of writing a story about exercise boot camps and have been putting off attending a particularly grueling 'boxing bootcamp' for weeks now.  friday was the big day, but after kiss the criterion conquistador goodbye and then lying in bed, dreading said bootcamp for four hours, i managed to sleep right through my 5:15 wake-up call.  

after waking up, i stumbled across town to one screening, which i arrived at punctually and with enough time to scan my book while i waited.  afterwards i had an hour to get down the street to see my second screening of the day. on bike i decided that i'd pop by a popular coffee shop and grab a cup before the film started to fight off the sleep that was nagging at my eyes.  sadly, the line for said popular coffee shop was so long and so slowly attended to, that even with a solid forty minutes between films, i was unable to get a cup of coffee.  now under-caffeinated and starving i had to settle for an apple and a bag of pretzels purchased from the 7-11 (that didn't have any change in any of the registers) as my screening snack.  perturbed but feeling better, i sauntered in to the screening of indie-documentary catfish, only to find that the film had started at 1:30 and i was already a half an hour late.

it's disconcerting to stumble in to a film late.  at home it doesn't make a difference, you just ask a bunch of questions to those watching and hope you didn't miss the juicy stuff.  in a theater though you have to push past a bunch of completely involved viewers and then quietly open your bag of pretzels and stare at the screen completely bewildered by what the fuck is going on.  to say the least my purchase of an apple and a bag of pretzels was predicated on the idea that i could eat one and open the other prior to the film, thus there wouldn't be bag crinkling and apple slurping.  poor choice.

with all of this falling around my shoulders though, the last hour or so of henry joost and ariel schulman's catfish totally floored me.  it's a documentary about a man who falls for a lady through facebook and, well, that's pretty much all i want to say.  the story that unravels within this picture says so much about the social media-soaked world we live in.  it's really a searing look at the idea of what it is to meet someone without ever having actually seeing them, and about the sort of pain we as human beings going through to combat loneliness and the abject dread of life failure.  

it's really all i can say without giving away too much.  but please, if you have the opportunity, you really need to get out there and see this film.

i, grouchy and hungry, loved the shit out of it, and i imagine if you're lucky enough to see the first half an hour it will only increase your love.