Wednesday, December 30, 2009

I found another Criterion Quest!

At Christmas Eve this year, my long time friend David informed me of something that I feel like I should've spilled the beans about moments after I was told:

There is another Criterion Quest.

I'm not shocked by this, the quest to consume all things Criterion is not only a rewarding one, but a hallowed one by film geeks the world over. Thus, a second traveler on this oft times lonely path is not only expected, but encouraged, and lauded for partaking in such a daunting effort.

That said, I have a few misgivings about, sigh, the other Criterion Quest:

1. It's called, sigh, Criterion Quest. I'll say it again, this isn't shocking, recording the trials and tribulations of my quest to consume the ever growing Criterion Collection isn't the most original, but Jesus, out of all the names in the entire world that you could choose, this other Criterion lover picked the only name that was already chosen. Feels a bit like starting a dirty rock band in Aberdeen, Washington and naming it Nirvana. A bit like making a film about light sabers and droids and calling it Star Wars. A bit like starting a family band and calling it The Jackson 5. You get the point. Out of all the names in the entire world, this fellow or lady could've chosen, they chose mine. What about Criterion Collision? Or Criterion Crusade? Criterion Chase, Adventure, Journey, Mission, Pursuit, Quarry ...

As I type this Alex is sitting in the background hinting that "Criterion Crusade" is actually a better name then Criterion Quest. The religious implications, the need to convert, yadda yadda yadda - I'm sticking to my guns. This blog stays a Criterion Quest. Andrew of Andrew's Criterion Quest, I beg of you, switch on over, Criterion Crusade, it beckons to you.

2. Honestly, I'm a little excited that someone is copying the old Quest. This idea has been rattling around in my head for years now, and I remember laying it out for my boss at the record label and receiving absolutely brilliant feedback. Usually I'd just have some sort of great idea and then wait and watch as someone else brought it to fruition. With Criterion Quest though it was a combination of my great loves of writing and watching films, so it didn't even seem like work. And what can I say, the idea that someone has blatantly copied me in both name and objective sort of makes me feel like I've made it. Imitation is the greatest form of flattery and so on and so forth. So, well, thanks Andrew of Andrew's Criterion Quest, left me with a warm spot of recognition deep in my heart.

It's almost the New Year. I'll have a list of resolutions and reflections on this, a fantastic year, in the days to come.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

My mom and a CLOONEY TWOONEY Pt. 2: UP IN THE AIR

I went home for the holi-daze and my mom, whom I love, continues to be intentionally, and unintentionally funny.

A few examples:

1. My mom asked me to help her with cellphone. I asked, "What's the problem?" She said, "I can't seem to ever hear it when it rings." I said, "Let me take a look at it." She shrugged, "I don't have it on me."

2. Right before I vacated the Emerald City, my dad, mom, and I went to Vintage Northwest (chairs, television, booze, and the distracted visages of travelers) Bar in the airport. When my mom ordered a drink, the bartender asked for her ID. My mother turned 62 last Tuesday. Yes, she's a good looking woman who looks barely 50, but she is not a someone you'd need to ID. My mom said, "I didn't bring my ID. I'm fucking 62 years old." The bartender, slightly stooped and blessed with an irritating smugness only those in love with their terrible jobs can convey, shrugged his shoulders and said, "I can't serve you then, sorry." My mom said, "Jesus, I'm fucking 62." My dad, smooth as ice, said, "Well, I'd like to order two beers then." The bartender, blank and in power, said, "Nope, can't let you do that." My mom, like a sixteen year old at a Christmas party, spent the rest of the time, warily watching the bartender and sneaking drinks from my dad's warm beer. This is a Sander's tradition, if something like this can happen, it does.

She's a lovely lady, but I was thinking about Seattle and what stuck out and as usual it's my mother and her antics.

Up In The Air

I'm going to lay it out there: Up In The Air is easily the most overrated film of 2009. I can already see it's accolades, it's Oscar noms, Clooney taking the gold, it's inclusion on every savvy critic's best of list, but I'll say it again, Up In The Air is a ball of bluster, an overlong, painfully sappy fluff-ball, held together by a typically brilliant performance by George Clooney.

I'll say this, I was seated, as per usual, next to the lovely Alex during the film, and some twenty minutes in to it she leaned over to me and whispered, "I hate this movie." Thus, there was a general air of dislike oozing over me throughout.

But, transparency revealed, this movie is pretty hard to get through. George Clooney's Ryan Bingham is a Removal Technician, a hired gun who does the dirty work of firing large amounts of people for enormous faceless corporations. More than that though, Bingham pretty much lives in planes, airports, and the generic hotels - his only goal to reach 10 million miles in the air, so he can receive the coveted Platinum Card. When his company grounds him though, Bingham flips and the story of his fall and rise bubbles to the surface.

Yes, George Clooney is great in this role. It's a role built for him, the sort of aging charmer who seems like a snake oil salesman, but truly has a heart of gold. And I enjoyed nearly every moment of his performance, but couldn't help but think that this was the type of role he could play after drinking a handle of scotch and bareback fighting a tiger. It's nothing challenging.

And that's my main problem with this film - it doesn't challenge anything. People have been calling it "dark comedy" and yes it isn't just dick and fart jokes, but this is "dark comedy" wrapped in cotton candy. This isn't World's Greatest Dad or Big Fan, this is dark comedy-lite, the kind of stuff you can bring your family to, and they'll laugh and feel bolstered with cheer nonetheless. Up In The Air hits on each and every pained cliche possible in this sort of film, but because of some strong cinematography and the aforementioned Clooney performance, it manages to seem like a bigger, better film. Vera Farmiga and Anna Kendrick give strong performances as well as the injected females in Bingham's life that sort of push him in the direction of a life less traveled, but their character arcs and resolutions are broadcast a mile away from a different theatre.

All of this could be salvaged if not for the extreme length of this film. It literally just goes on and on and on and on. And hell, I watched Spartacus (105) last week, a film that surehandedly exists for four hours, and this film felt longer. I can only be bathed in pure unadulterated sap for so long before I think about spearing myself in the eye with a pin.

I can't say I hated this film, as anything with Clooney will at least illicit a smile, but this isn't the film that everyone's making it out to be. I'm sure I'll be defending my stance ad nauseum come award season.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

A final Holi-daze excuse!




Too much work!

Too little time!

Just flew in to the Great White North (Seattle's a toasty 35 today) and am currently cooped up in my parent's den getting down to the great nitty gritty of workin' it out.

Thus, with a hand wave a flourish, I'm wishing you a Happy Holi-daze.

Keep your head up and the booze down.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

SPARTACUS (105)

The Film: Spartacus (105)
The Director: Stanley Kubrick (2001: A Space Odyssey, The Killing, etc.)

What Is It?: A stunning Roman epic revolving, but certainly not limited to, the slave revolt inspired and led by the one, the only, Spartacus (Kirk Douglas).

The Experience: I've written extensively about it, but, in a nutshell: I wanted to consume this entire monster of a movie in one sitting. Alex wanted to consume this entire monster of a movie on a 40-inch flat screen. Thus, we waited, and then gorged ourselves on sword-and-sandal, nearly four melodramatic hours of it. As cinematically full as I've felt in years.

Quick Notes:

1. A brief history of the film.

Spartacus (105) was originally going to be directed by Anthony Mann (The Furies (435)) but when actor-producer Kirk Douglas realized that the notoriously hard-headed Mann would be a force to be reckoned with he, amongst a quickly spiraling budgetary fiasco, yanked Mann and installed a director he knew and respected - the then 31-year old Stanley Kubrick, whom Douglas had previously worked with on Paths of Glory.

2. Another bit of history.

The screenwriter on this film is Dalton Trumbo, a celebrated member of the Hollywood Ten. What might you ask is the Hollywood Ten? Those brave screenwriters who opposed the House Un-American Committee in the late 40s, fating themselves to write under pen-names for nearly a decade. Douglas loved Dalton Trumbo though, and thus spat in the eye of well, America, in allowing Trumbo to write and be credited. When protests broke out, Douglas stuffed it in right-wing America's face again, hiring Trumbo to write two more movies. Take that bloated idiocy of America.

3. Is any cinematic experience big enough for this film?

Even after waiting for weeks for a perfect television and my near perfect lady to be sprawled a top me, this film was bigger than I could imagine. The film opens with a ten minute "overture", a commanding performance of the theme song over blackness, and segues directly in a mammoth shot of thousands of slaves working on a desolate desert hillside. I imagine that this shot alone took months and months and months of preparation. And the film is just shot after shot like this, big beautiful vistas and marching armies and the sort of widescreen physical experience one just doesn't experience anymore.

4. How come we can't do big budget films like this anymore?

Avatar, James Cameron's recently opened opus, cost near 500 million dollars, taking nearly ten years to come together. Spartacus (105) was filmed in under and year and cost a not nearly as staggering 12 million dollars (though to be quite honest, it was a staggering figure at the time). Avatar features an entire world created out of ones and zeroes. Spartacus (105) features a world crafted from wood, steel and fabric. Both films were enormous for their time, but I wonder if in fully immersing ourselves in the digital realm, we lose the sort of man-made spectacle that a film like Spartacus (105) offers. Even with out the sort of whizzing flash-bang of modern day filmic spectacles, I was captivated by this monstrous Roman epic, always hungry for what might happen next. And yes this is because Dalton Trumbo is a master, and James Cameron wrote Titanic, but there's something about a crafted world that draws me in. Roommate Yon-Marcum asked if I wanted to see Avatar in 3-D on Saturday and all I could reply was "I'm watching Spartacus (105) in 2-D. Maybe another day."

5. Spartacus is kind of boring.

Not the film, the character. There's three main storylines in this film: Spartacus's slave revolt, Spartacus's romance with Varinia (Jean Simmons), and the underhanded politics of the Roman senate. And honestly, even with all the shirtless man-fighting, I found Spartacus' storylines the most boring. There was a generic late-50s feel to these parts of the film, a sort of chugging Hollywood mechanic that left me starry-eyed at best.

That said, the underhanded dealings of the Romans was fantastic. Lead by three amazing actors (Peter Ustinov as slave-dealing Lentulus, Laurence Olivier as smirking Christian death-dealer Crassus, and Charles Laughton as "corpulent" master of the Senate Gracchus) this is where the film, surprisingly zings. Together, or separate, or split in to pairs, these three Brits, dominate the screen with their subtle sarcasm and undeniable wit. Olivier's speech about his "oysters and snails" (oysters = women, snails = men), Laughton's final moments with Varinia, and every single second with Ustinov's manipulative sniveler on screen showcase how a truly great epic functions by balancing the numbskulled action with brilliant character acting. Amazing.

6. Kirk Douglas' father may have been a mountain.

Seriously, I think Douglas' mother may have had a dalliance with a slab of granite. Look at his face! There's metamorphic structures envious of it.

7. Again, I'm a lucky person.

Alex was excited this week to watch Spartacus (105). Not just with me, of her own accord she cinematically hungry to consume this big old picture in one enormous sitting. We saw Vertigo at The Castro Theater and spent an hour afterward discussing why it is her favorite Hitchcock film. Yesterday we spent nearly an hour playing with two alien looking cats. Barely talking, just enjoying two cats and each others company.

None of these things will I ever take for granted.

Final Thoughts: This is the way I want my big-budget films to be. Well-written, well-acted, long but not bloated. I'm watching a Michael Bay flick at the end of this chunk of five films and I've got to say, I'm curious to how it stands up. I'm thinking of seeing Avatar, watching The Rock (108), and then doing a three way comparison of all the films. A sort of cross-decade look at where the big-budget spectacle has gone. Sounds ambitious though.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Got to keep working.

Alex and I mainlined Spartacus (105) on Saturday. An entire afternoon dedicated to Kirk Douglas and Stanley Kubrick's four hour epic. An entire afternoon filled with shirtless gladiators, short swords, tridents and Roman armies.

And to be quite honest, I haven't fully digested it yet.

Also, I have so much work on my plate right now my innards are quivering.

Thus, for today, it's another excuse. But c'mon folks, it's the holidaze, give me a little leeway.

Tomorrow though, it's Spartacus (105) time.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

A Clooney Twooney pt. 1: THE FANTASTIC MR. FOX

I spent a lot of time with George Clooney last weekend. Yes, that handsome darling of an older gentleman and I enjoyed four hours together on Saturday and Sunday, and I have to say, it was a bit uneven. I haven't seen two films in the theater in a weekend for as long as I can remember, but between the need to see Fantastic Mr. Fox on the big screen (I'm a Wes Anderson sycophant, somebody help me) and a hungover rainy Sunday viewing of Up In The Air, it just happened.

It's late, so my Clooney Twooney is being divided down the middle, but I'll discuss my thoughts on the amazing Fantastic Mr. Fox today and then poke holes in the nonsense of Up In The Air come Monday. Clooney love will be spattered throughout

Fantastic Mr. Fox

As I just stated, I'm a bit of Wes Anderson fan. The Royal Tenenbaums has long been my favorite movie (though that list needs some serious tweaking) with Rushmore, The Life Aquatic, and Bottle Rocket peppering my top twenty. Hell, I even loved The Darjeeling Limited. Thus, when Yon-Marcum, my hirsute roomie inquired about my interest in a screening of his new stop-motion adaptation of beloved kids author Roald Dahl's equally beloved short story, I was more than in. Sure it was going to cost me 10.50 (my fake student discount only works at AMC theaters on Thursday, and then it still would've been 8.50) but I haven't missed out on an Anderson film in the theater since Rushmore.

And, of course, a Wes Anderson film featuring George Clooney as a smooth talking animated fox? Both arms and legs would be sold to see this film.

This is a film about Mr. Fox and, as in all Wes Anderson films, his extremely large family. His beautiful wife (Meryl Streep, who I swear only gets better with age), his cape-wearing son (Jason Schwartzman), his talented nephew (Eric Anderson) and a bevy of other animals who loosely fill in the cracks. Mr. Fox, Foxy, is a retired chicken thief who's become a writer in his old age, but yearns for a new life above the burrows he and his family have spent their lives in. When he moves to a tree though, his years of burglary come back to haunt him.

First things first, this is a Wes Anderson film. Animated or adapted or directed from a hotel room, this is as much a Wes Anderson film as any he's made. Sure, the actor's are replaced with beautifully crafted stop-motion figurines, but that's the only change. The short square shots buoyed by rectangular tracking shots? Check. The diverse brood of characters? Check. The sleeve full of family issues worn proudly? Check. And finally, the dry, yet cheery ending? Check.

This is Wes Anderson, and if you've tired of his style, this film isn't for you. And we can't be friends anymore.

That said, this is Anderson in a whole new sandbox, one bedecked with a sort of whimsical silliness unseen in his other films. The Pulp-scored dance/thievery montage comes to mind. The spiral-eyed possum comes to mind. The insane proportions of the film's baddies come to mind. Willem Dafoe's perverted, L'siana rat comes to mind. This is a Wes Anderson deftly combined with the surreal world of Roald Dahl's imagination and it is a beautiful combination.

The dialogue is sharp and crisp, the themes (being different is a-okay) delightfully executed, and best of all the colors pop like winter fireworks. I found myself smiling, giggling, and generally enjoying myself like no other film this year.

And how's Clooney as an animated burglar fox? Fantastic. Absolutely. He's my perfect crook - charming, witty, funny, but tinged with enough experience that you know he could be deadly. After the film Yon-Marcum and I discussed how we'd love to see the prequel to this film or the further adventures of Foxy and family. How'd we'd enjoy even dipping in to a different story as long as it existed in this little world.

A solid 10 of a film. Get out and see it if you can.

I'm sure glad that Guillermo del Toro makes movies.



I love myself some Guillermo del Toro. I love the Hellboy films (two is better than one, I promise), I love his Spanish historical horrors (Pan's Labyrinth is a breathtaking film), I even love his first dips in to the American horror market (Chronos and the much-maligned Mimic). Guillermo del Toro is a talented filmmaker, a true master if you ask me.

But, really, I think he should probably stick to the film medium.

I recently, quite excitedly, devoured The Strain, the first book in his vampire-trilogy written with Chuck Hogan. And was more than disappointed. I was actually appalled that book so trite and so poorly written was somehow birthed from the mind of one of the greats working today. I was shocked that any publisher would look at this book, written seemingly by a sixteen year old Stephen King after huffing a jar of paint thinner, and be excited to put it on the shelves. I was vocally angry that characters like these (two dimensional and seemingly rented from the Character Warehouse) are still being used today.

The Strain takes place in a New York on the verge of solar eclipse. A commercial airliner lands on a tarmac at JFK filled with dead passengers. Enter Ephram Goodweather and his virtually non-existent assistant Nora, two members of the CDC's Canary group, the folk who try to warn and help the public against widespread epidemics. I'll break the news, this is a book about vampires, and the epidemic spreading across the city of New York is of course, a vampire plague. There's a master vampire, and a older more dangerous vampires, and a slew of individual vampires who's stories we follow as the book progresses, and lets not forget about the group of vampire-hunters who come together to try and battle this unstoppable plague. Each and all barely characters, just shadows of characters that have populated other stories and video games and comic books the world over. An old man who's fought vampires across the world (check), a recently released gang-banger with a heart of gold (check), an erratic genius doctor who kills to save his family (check), and an attractive lady with absolutely nothing to do but be a love interest (check). And sadly, none of these characters are anything more than these one off descriptions.

And that's just the start of the writing mishaps that plague this near awful book.

Lets not start on the plot (literally every vampire book ever written mashed in to one) or the stylistic inability to convey any sort of excitement in the vampire battles or the terrible pacing and plot structure. They are all there and are barely worth my or your time.

A few good things about the book? In typically del Toro fashion, there's an emphasis on the ooey-gooey science bits. The plague and all it's grim effects are meticulously detailed, the way the body is consumed, the bits of disgusting that grow around the jaw, the various colors of spew these zombie-vampires hurl - all of its there, in glistening glory. Aside from that and an interesting take on how we as humans react to our loved ones becoming undead blood drinkers this book is kind of a wash. If you love del Toro or you love vampire stories try this one out, but don't expect the magic that I did. You'll cry yourself to sleep.


Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Too much work.

I'm swamped right now. My gators are on, I'm knee-deep in a gooey, shark-infested puddle of work, work, and more work.

Borderline frantic, sort of tied together with cheap tape and twine.

Thus, for today, you get another excuse. One day, I'll write about movies again.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

A word on my side-quest to consume SPARTACUS (105)

I've been hankering to watch Stanley Kubrick's amazing Roman Epic Spartacus (105) for days now. Days. This can be a rarity for Criterion films, as much of the time I'm staring down the barrel of six hour Japanese romantic comedy (or something of its ilk) and though I usually find myself truly enjoying the film, it's a struggle to get that enjoyment ball rolling.

Not with Spartacus (105). This is a big, beautiful Kubrick movie, and I've seen bits of it in the past, and I can not wait to re-expose myself to the film as an older, more film-savvy gentleman. Then why might you ask have I not stopped everything and consumed the movie in one big sloppy gulp?

Three reasons:

1. It started with Alex's excitement about watching Spartacus (105). I'm pretty laissez faire when it comes to watching films. I'll pick at them in bits, squishing them in to the open spaces in my day, until their gone. I've actually wondered on many an occasion how this effects my final thoughts on a film, if I lose some aspect of the meaning and enjoyment from watching it in this way. Alex, literally my favorite person on Earth, got word of Spartacus (105) hurtling down the pipe and was consumed by excitement. But Alex doesn't want to watch the film in bite size chunks like me, she wants to immerse herself in Kubrick's Roman legions in one fell swoop. Thus dates were made, imaginary popcorn was popped, excitement built. But ...

2. Spartacus (105) is nearly four hours long. Yup, four hours of Kirk Douglas, shirtless, fighting off the Romans. Tickle me pink. Four hours isn't an egregious length for a film made before, hell, 1995. On average, film lengths have decreased thirty minutes to an hour over the last fifteen or so years as our internet addled brains have stopped being able to process "long form" films. But films prior to this were lengthy. Serious films dictated serious minutes, and short films, were often considered "pithy", better suited to comedy or romance. Thus, Kubrick's Roman opus, as serious as a heart attack, is a sweeping beast of a film. And devouring a four hour film isn't just something you sit down and do, it's day-eater and you have to have dedication and you have to have a chunk of your time to spend. Thus, we've made dates, but Alex and I are flighty and prone to forgetfulness, thus the four hour opus still sits in its beautiful little case on my desk.

3. Finally, we decided last night that we were going to give it a go. Make some popcorn, pop the flick in the old computer and watch a four hour wide-screened epic on my 14 inch laptop ... until Alex proposed that we wait until the end of the week, as we'll be house-sitting two beautiful homes, each equipped with enormous televisions. Um, yes. I will wait another two, three days for the glory that is Spartacus (105), so I can enjoy spearings and slave revolution on a forty-inch flat screen plasma.

Thus, my Quest, for a moment sits idle.

Oh and if you're curious Criterion just released their films for March. Does this make anyone else as excited as it does me?

Wednesday: A Cloony Twoony.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Brief respite.

I've got an immense amount of film to talk about.

Not even kidding loyal readers, I've been putting back cinema like it's All-You-Can-Eat Day at the pharmacy.

Sadly, I'm exhausted, it's late on a Monday and my plate is piled far too precariously high.

I'll be back tomorrow though, hopefully with the head of Spartacus (105) hanging from my belt.

Keep it virtual.

Tuesday: Either Spartacus (105), a Clooney Twooney, or Guillermo Del Toro sure is he glad he can make a great film.

Friday, December 11, 2009

What I'm Reading.

It's Friday! That means short and sweet and usually barely related to the Criterion Collection. This week I'm not even talking about movies! Take that pigeonholers! I'm a new man.

Turns out not only do I enjoy a cinematic romp, I'm also addicted to blogs. All sorts of them. Fashion blogs, design blogs, blog blogs - a whole skew of random websites that turn me on to a variety of shit that I could probably do without knowing.

Nonetheless, I thought, as long as I've got your attention, I'd share the tops that I've been reading.

Enjoy!

We Love You So

This blog originated as a sort of PR thang for Where The Wild Things Are run by Spike Jonze and a myriad of his ultra-talented friends. The movies out now, and sure there's still some Wild Things related posts, but mainly it's just a series of amazing entries about art, film, music, and design as curated by your way cooler old brother. I sometimes hide my computer from Alex when I'm looking at We Love You So because I'm embarrassed by the sweaty smile plastered on my face.

Raven Sings The Blues

Easily the best music site on the web. A mysterious stranger (seriously, I've tracked this person before with sled dogs and compasses to no avail) picks his/her favorite artist's new releases and exposes them to us, his devoted readers. I find nearly each and every bit of music he picks to be, if not enjoyable, entirely interesting. My love and collection of music has grown immensely due to this site's fantastic recommendations.

Aquarium Drunkard

Where Raven Sings The Blues is my one-stop shop for all things up-and-coming, Aquarium Drunkard is my musical library. I drop by this amazing site each and every day just to see what bit of obscure musical history they've tapped in to this time. It isn't always albums you've never heard of, but it's always a fantastic take, well informed and beautifully written. If Raven Sings The Blues strays more towards garage, cold-synth and weird and wacky, Aquarium Drunkard likes it's jukebox stuffed to the garters with good-old fashioned folk and rock 'n' roll.

Pacific Standard

Strath Shephard works with me over at Light In The Attic, and over the course of the last few months I've sort of addictively followed his blog. Shephard is a talented graphic designer (check the site, I swear) and used to own a long-gone favorite record label of mine in Seattle. Thus, the blog is a mish-mash of amazing graphic design, fashion, textography, photography, and, well, rap music. And never, never, miss out on your Weekly Dose of Mr. Littlejeans.

Motion/Captured

I used to be obsessive about film news. Literally hours of my day were spent perusing film sites hoping for new information on anything and everything I could get my grubby cyber-mitts on. These days I've followed my favorite film writer (Drew McWeeney) from the nerd-confines of Ain't It Cool News to the more filmically amazing world of Motion/Captured. McWeeney is a film-obsessive but one working within the film industry, thus his take on the pictures is both historically accurate, obsessively knowledgeable and steeped in industry know-what. A fantastic site for those who love talking about flicks.

The Criterion Collection

Best fucking old movie website on the interwebs. Hands down.


Thursday, December 10, 2009

I'm busy, here's some TRAILERS.

I've got things to do, great important things, so instead of spending time writing anything, I present to you a bunch of trailers with my thoughts on these trailers.

Enjoy.

There's a new clip up for Disney's new foray in to 2-D animation, The Princess and The Frog and it seems, well, cheesy. But maybe the kind of cheese that tastes good on a rye cracker. This is the first 2-D film released with Pixar's John Lasseter at the head so I'm at least a little interested.

Lets keep it Disney. Worst idea ever: a re-imagining of The Sorcerer's Apprentice as a Bruckheimer fueled action flick starring Cpt. Wig Nicolas Cage and Jay Baruchel. The trailer makes it look, well, magical, but I'm guessing this is one for the bland-brained Midwestern set. Sadly, that means I'll probably see it.

Peter Jackson's Lovely Bones is hurtling in to theaters soon, and strangely I'd never got around to watching this trailer. I'd heard someone refer to it as What Dreams May Come Pt. 2 and sadly I get a similar feeling. Nonetheless, Jackson has an occasionally deft hand and I'm excited for anything he's doing post-LOTR.

Speaking of the big guns, Rob Marshall (Chicago) is dropping Nine this holiday season, his retelling of Federico Fellini's 8 1/2, and by trailer alone, I'm at least curious. This is one of the more superficially attractive casts of women perhaps ever assembled, and with Daniel Day-Lewis at forefront, I might actually jettison my hatred of all things musical-related to see it. Maybe.

That still took me forty-five minutes. Blast.

Friday: Audition

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

A doomful prophesy and CAT DANCERS



We thought we'd cured it Joe, but gosh darn it's back again.

I have a theory, a rant, hell, a doom-laden bit of prediction that's been clinking about my tin brainpan for a bit. And, well, I thought who better to infuse with my fears and hypochondric insecurities, then you the gentle-minded readers of Criterion Quest.

Thus, a rant:

I'm sick. I've been sick for weeks. Everyone I talk to is either getting sick or is "on the mend." I hear people talking about their varied "cold-like" symptoms disappearing and then jumping right back. Alex has been on-and-off sick with a variety of lung-laden diseases for months now. My house feels a bit like the cheeriest tuberculosis ward you've ever stepped in to.

And everybody's just blaming it on the "flu season." Well, I'm calling foul: I think this flu season is dead. I think humanity is on a sickness-based spiral in to the afterlife.

Oh I know, Old Man Sanders is up on his soap box again, twiddling his beard and predicting the end times, but seriously, take a look around. Doesn't it seem like we've all been sick, that we are all still sick, and that we (you, me, the entire world) have been this way for as long as we can remember? When's the last time there wasn't some super-flu cutting down children and old folk? I can barely remember. Doesn't it seem like the time between when Dr. So-and-So is telling you to get a flu vaccination is getting shorter and shorter? Yup, indeed, that's because flu season is dead and gone my feeble friends - this is just how it's going to be.

That nagging cough, that stuffed up nose and a bit of tiredness in the middle of the day, that's called sickness. But you know how usually that sickness, those symptoms, they disappear after a while as your body gets better, well that's not an option anymore. We've weakened ourselves people with shitty diets and chemically based food products and pharmaceuticals and pollution and on and on, and in true Darwinian fashion, the natural world has taken advantage of this. You thought our societies doom was going to be melting ice caps and 300-foot tidal waves? Guess again, folk, we're just slowly, but surely going to keep being sick, and then sicker. And as we keep telling ourselves that this is just a "season" and we keep pumping ourselves full of medicine to keep the illness "at bay" we're going to get weaker and weaker over such a slow period of time that it won't even see noticeable. Until one day we all look up and we're just a nation/world/civilization of feeble folk, barely able to take care of ourselves, waiting for whatever's next to just swoop on in and pick us off. Evolution's a stone-cold killer folks and I think our collective jugulars are sprawled on the chopping block.

Or maybe I've just been slightly sickly for the last month and need an overblown description to give me hope that this wheezy cough has greater meaning.

Or maybe I just like to ramble.

And now, Cat Dancers.

The Film: Cat Dancers
The Director: Harris Fishman

What Is It?: The story of the world's greatest dancing cat performance act, Cat Dancers, and their, surprisingly tragic end.

The Experience: Alex and I wanted to get some cheery films for our T-Day Weekend, instead we ended up with the depressingly subpar Bruno and this not-so-zany film about erotic trysts, imprisoned cats, very sad people, and grisly grisly deaths. At least our cornish game hen was tasty.

Something Interesting: Ligers, though fascinating, are actually the inbreeds of the wild cat world. Because of their cross-breeding they can't breed and share the oft times conflicting traits of a tiger and lion (should I swim? should I hang out solo? should I have a pride?). Thought you might want to know.

Quick Notes:

1. This is not your average tale of cat dancing.

Cat dancing, for you the horrifyingly unknowing, is the practice of training wild cats to, ahem, "dance" with you, i.e., perform with you in a mock circus. This applies to jaguars, tigers, panthers, etc. Ron and Joy Holiday were world-famous dancers (and nude photo celebrities) who in their second stage of life turned towards the dangerous world of cat dancing. Cat Dancers follows the ups, downs, and really awful demise of this supposedly world famous trio of cat-waltzing folk. And where you'd think this film would just be your sort of Home Movie look at a quirky subset of people, it is not. It is story of love, lust, immense heartbreak and grisly death. A snapshot of sadness unlike any you've seen previously. I can almost assure of this. Alex and I, expecting sequined outfits and immense zaniness, sat in dumb-shocked horror trying to get a hold on this horrific tale unfolding before us. And it just keeps getting more and more shocking. Cat Dancers is not smile-laden pick-me-up we thought it to be, and I warn you, don't ingest it as such.

2. Florida?

I think a three-way-love-affair between a family of cat dancers who almost entirely meet their untimely demises at the claws of a near-retarded white tiger named Jupiter can only happen in Florida. I sometimes just want to buy a camera and go to the first town in Florida, talk to the first family I meet, film there lives for one week, edit it, send it to the Academy and win seven Oscars. Florida, you are the haven for strange.

3. Ron Holiday.

Ron Holiday, the narrator and only survivor of Cat Dancers, is as interesting a character as any you'll see in movies right now. On one side he's exactly what you'd think, a slightly gay Floridian who loves wild cats, lives by himself with three dogs (yes, the cat dancer himself now owns dogs) and glues his hair on in the morning. A man who prides himself on sequined gladiator outfits and can catch a jaguar in mid-leap. On the other this is a man who's clearly lost everything that meant anything to him - his wife, his lover, his beautiful cats - and his ability to keep on moving on is both inspirational and terrifying. When asked at one point in the film, "Have you been to move past this tragedy?" He breaks in to angry tears, barely able to choke out the fact that he'll never move past this, only figure out a way to keep living, any way possible. Sure, this is a story about wacky people, Florida's local celebrities, that danced with cats, but more so this is about life and what it dishes out regardless of who we are or what we do.

4. Just how famous were these Cat Dancers?

Sentimentality aside, there's a lot of talk about how famous the Cat Dancers (Ron, Joy and Chuck) were but Alex and I were both completely unaware of this cat dancing trio before viewing this film. They talk about their huge performances, but every piece of video footage seems to have been filmed in either a high school gym or a backyard. They claim to be number twos to Siegfried and Roy's number one, but on what Las Vegas stage did these leather clad cat-tangoers perform upon? Seems skeptical to me, but Jesus, I didn't even know cat dancing was a tangible profession until two weeks ago.

Final Thoughts: After a few weeks thought I've come to think that this is a pretty amazing documentary. A sneaky bit of sadness that creeps up when you're waiting for sequin-inspired giggles. Humanity on display folk, in all its amazing weirdness.

Thursday: Audition




Tuesday, December 8, 2009

DOUBLE SUICIDE (104)

The Film: Double Suicide (104)
The Director: Masahiro Shinoda (Samurai Spy (312))

What Is It?: An almost Shakespearean tragedy of unhonored love and the trappings of medieval Japanese culture. Also, if you couldn't read between the lines (or the title) a bit of a downer.

The Experience: I thought this film was going to take me a month at least, but I threw on my enormous studio headphones (what I like to refer to as my "Criterion Headphones") sunk myself in to the leather green couch of our kitchen and plowed through the first forty minutes. Though it took me a week, I wrangled a bit of "Criterion Time" (my life, ruled by this Quest!) and bushwacked my way through the second half. Only took me a week and several late fees at a local video store.


Quick Notes:

1. Somehow modern, somehow traditional.

This, in many ways, is a very traditional Japanese film based on a very traditional Japanese play (a supposedly untapped reservoir in Japanese culture). There's honor and societal hierarchy and fake samurais and overburdening relatives and the breaking of honor and of course a graphic, blood-gouting double suicide. On the other hand every set looks like a Japanese Warhol Factory and the film starts with someone talking on the phone. There's slo-mo paper chucking, freeze frames, and a handful of other visual cues wrested from the experimental arms of the 1960s. This is Japan, but filtered through the art-film explosion of that amazing decade, and wow, at times it just leveled me with inspiration and, quite honestly, confusion. You're going to have to stick it out through this entire film Criterion Kids, but it will be well worth it.

2. I think I might be obsessed with gender.

Somehow, over the course of the last year or so, gender has become a common way I view films. In the past I'd just look for nudity and explosions, but all of sudden, I'm analyzing the way different cultures and different eras portray the interactions between men and women. It's like every film I see has some sort of eye-opening moment where midway through a mental analysis of the way women are portrayed as the strong-willed characters in the film, I rub my eyes and think, "where did that come from?" I credit Alex Healy for this, my most recent mental development.

3. Speaking of gender, strong-willed women abound!

Double Suicide (104) revolves around the story of a spineless jelly-fish of a fish merchant, Jihei (Kichiemon Nakamura), and the women he loves, his wife Osan and the beautiful courtesan Kahura (both played by Shima Iwashita). Here's the thing, both of these women are badasses, complex, honorable characters that are angry, and sad and happy and a little more angry and passionate and intelligent and benevolent and on and on. Jihei on the other hand is a sniveling wretch who can barely muster himself out of his bed. He's in some deep shit at several points in the film (trying to save the lives of his wife and lover) and all he can do is mope about, throw paper around and then kill himself (and have loud passionate sex in a ... cemetary). Osan and Kahura keep this slippery eel of a man, to a certain degree, on the path he needs to be, but even they can't help but succumb to his limp-wristed chicanery. It's interesting to finish watching The Lady Eve (103) a film dedicated to the standard man-is-rich, woman-is-wife tropes of the 1930s, and see just how far gender culture had evolved.

4. Yes, there are black-hooded puppeteers in nearly every frame.

They're called kurago, and are an ancient Japanese play device used to move props. In Double Suicide (104) they play the role of a strangely interactive Greek chorus. At times they play a traditional role, moving props and such, but to a greater degree they become our eyes in to the events unfolding. One lone rogue of a kurago even seems to fall somewhat in love with our main characters, following them through their tragic final night, even addressing the camera near their last moments. Shinoda claimed he was trying to realize the "thin line between truth and falsehood" a theme that runs throughout the film. What it made me feel was like I was watching a play on acid. I didn't feel closer to the characters or stronger in my role as an audience member, I just felt like someone had spiked my punch, and I purple caterpillars were going to start crawling out of my ears. But, hey, isn't film great?

5. A complex film about the trappings of honor and family.

This is a heavy of a film. A dialogue-heavy, theme-heavy, mood-heavy, mind bomb of a film that starts slow, burns slow, and wrenches the emotions out of your body slow and painfully. Jihei and Osan and even Kahura are characters ruined by the Japanese tradition of "saving face." There was, and perhaps isn't, any room for error in medieval Japan (as evidenced by a line about how samurais had to kill themselves if they forgot their swords) thus when Jihei becomes obsessed with a prostitute his only options are to redeem here (and then have a 'tute living in his abode) or forget her forever (an act he can't and won't do). Osan, his wife, on the other hand has to honor her husband, and even though she's angry and sad and wrecked by his infidelities, she still fights to save his life, and then when Kahura's life is threatened, fights to save hers. It's almost as if the double suicide of the title is Masahiro Shinoda's final thought on the "honor system" of the era, and that final thought would be: fuck it, when we're tied this tight, it always ends poorly.

Final Thoughts: I thought this film was going to be a one way ticket to Sleepytown, but after settling in with it and a glass of wine, I found myself amazed at the complexity of character and their interactions. It's a beautifully written, and filmed, piece of cinema and the deaths at the end, even though telegraphed from moment one, seem so absolutely earned when they finally occur. Not one for a party, but certainly a lovely film to chew on.

What's Next on The Criterion Quest: Spartacus (105)

Wednesday: Cat Dancers

Monday, December 7, 2009

Still no DOUBLE SUICIDE (104) and I've got a camera.

First off, another prolonged apology about my inability to finish Double Suicide (104), 'tis a beast of a film and I'm hard-up to find a moment to dig through it. But, in the immortal words of Kriss Kross on their second and final album, "tonight's the night baby." Tomorrow, let their be Double Suicide (104).

On the other hand I just picked up a digital single lens reflex and have been itching to post a few of the images I've been capturing on this here blog. Hopefully the photos I'm taking will become more and a more a part of this Criterion Quest as it's something I'm loving considerably, and you know I love sharing things I love. Like sickness, lovely delightful sickness.

So, for today, not even a hint of movies, just a quick couple of photos.

Hope you enjoy:

Alex Healy, broken-ribbed and silver-dressed on her 27th birthday.

My house makes people teleport.

Girl and dead baby shark.

Not exactly where we thought we were going.

Tuesday: By hook or by crook, Double Suicide (104)

Friday, December 4, 2009

An enormous photo of Skywalker Ranch.

It's Friday, meaning that I'm posting late and that I have little energy. I was attempting to slog through the ending of Double Suicide (103) last night, but Alex and I instead attempted to watch a documentary from the 1960s entitled, The Exiles. I don't know what documentaries were like in the 1960s, but this seemed like a poorly staged sitcom that sort of exploited the plight of Native Americans trying to move off the reservations. I slept through nearly the entire thing.

What I did do of worth yesterday was get the chance to geek out about Skywalker Ranch one of those hallowed places in all geeks mind. For those of you who didn't spend their childhood singing the Star Wars' theme to their hairdressers, Skywalker Ranch is the technical facility of George Lucas' LucasArts. One of Alex's many, many bosses is a sound-engineer there and was all too willing to give me the heads up on what exactly was going on there.

A few gleaned items:

- Turns out Skywalker Ranch is just a big sound facility. For a while they had a group of accountants and other "non-creatives" horsing around over there, but Lucas (he of the beard and flannel) thought that all those math-oriented brains were cluttering up the creatives. So he moved them to their own compound right down the road, where they could discuss macroeconomics and not dilute the brains of those trying to make, sigh, art. Lucas, you creative fascist you.

- There are no giant hedge structures of Yoda on the property. My source on the inside told me that the only prop he's ever really seen there is Luke's original lightsaber (awesome), but that he thought most of the other props from the film were "stored in some warehouse." I would like to find that warehouse.

- Where in the past I believed Skywalker Ranch to be a magical place where gods of science-fiction pieced together masterworks, instead I find that it's just a sound facility. And not just for LucasArts, but for whomever wants to rent it out. The fantastical land where I believed you'd be greeted by phaser-toting storm troopers is just an overblown recording studio. I cried a bit.

- Things at Skywalker Ranch: live cattle, an inn, an organic farm, a fire station (with two fire trucks), a reservoir, the aforementioned lightsaber, and a main house where George Lucas himself once lived. This isn't a sound studio it's a goddamn vacation home.

- It's strange to learn that a place of magic in your mind is really just a place where people work. A place were people work that I'd still give an arm and a leg to visit.

Monday: Double Suicide (103)

Thursday, December 3, 2009

WHAT'S IN STORE #8

Wow, it's been a while since I've written up a preview for what's next and I think there's actually a few good reasons for it. First, I'm just glad I'm not forcing my Criterion Quest anymore. I'm just letting it flow as it might, and I feel as if my filmic diet is much more balanced because of it. Second, I like this blog being about film in general, not just the Criterion Collection. As much as I adore that bastion of all things film geek, there's a wide world of amazing cinema out there and I want this blog to explore it all.

Thus, as happy as I am to have finally started mounting my way to the tip top of single digits, I'm happy as to what this blog has become.

That said, lets see what's in store.


#104. Double Suicide dir. Masahiro Shinoda

To be honest, I've already dug pretty deep in to this film and holy fuck-wit if I'm not confused as to what I'm watching. It's near experimental mish-mash that falls on to a tiny island somewhere between a Greek tragedy, a samurai love story, and a 1960s art-film. Oh yeah the entire film centers around a, ahem, double suicide. Not exactly the cheeriest of films, nor the most entertaining. But we'll get to that another time.

#105. Spartacus dir. Stanley Kubrick

C'mon, you know what this is. Kirk Douglas, he of the shadow casting chin and painfully botoxed son? Stanley Kubrick, he of the soul-blistering filmography and penchant for naked Tom Cruise? All smooshed together in to a film about a gladiator trying to survive. I've seen this film many many years ago and couldn't be more excited for a new taste.

#106. Coup de Torchon dir. Bertrand Tavernier

A French noir! Based on the steamy noir-work of beloved, and boozy author Jim Thompson! Starring the scaldingly attractive Isabelle Hupert! My palms are sweaty just thinking about it. Am I ever this excited about my top five? Am I ever this excited about anything?

#107 Mona Lisa dir. Neil Jordan

Please, somebody hold me, as I'm getting a bit faint. Neil Jordan's (he of The Crying Game, he of Interview With A Vampire) early, ahem, NOIR about a small town loser, played by the brilliant beast that is Bob Hoskins, on a "dangerous quest through the sordid underbelly of London." I love sordid things! I need to change my shirt, this much sweat is gross.

#108 The Rock dir. Michael Bay

Oh I know how much each and all of you are surprised by The Rock (104) appearing in The Criterion Collection. "But what about Die Hard? Or perhaps a Walter Hill film? Why this, this morbid bloated Nic Cage vehicle? What's next Con Air?" And I say hush. I feel as if every once in awhile The Criterion Collection just wants to make some dollars and force feed their customers some excessively trashy action. I mean they'll claim that Michael Bay invented modern action, but I think they just need a break from dramatic, breathy French films sometimes too. We all do. So zip it haters, zip it good.

Wow, I'm ready for this batch. Let me slumber through the end of Double Suicide (103) and then we get to me cinematically creaming myself for the next few weeks.

Friday: Double Suicide (103)

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Strange facts and QUICK NOTES: 500 DAYS OF SUMMER

I can't come up with any sort of coherent thought pattern to formulate in to a blog, so I thought I would just pull the old shotgun trigger and spray your faces with some idea buckshot.

Here we go:

1. Being sick sucks. Oh I know, you all know that. "Boo hoo, Noah's sick. All he does is complain and shirk his blog." But seriously, it does, and what sucks even more is being sick ... with a mustache. Take all of that sickness that you hate: the snot, the hack, the low energy and add a mustache and you have a hellish experience. Why you might ask? Why does a hair caterpillar perched atop your upper lip up the miserable qualities of sickness? Nose blowing. Your average upper lip, bereft of hair, is pretty safe in a nose-blowing situation. That ooey goodness clogged within your nostrils doesn't have a foothold and just slides away in to a hankie. Add a mustache though and you have a veritable forest for that slimy goodness to hide within. All of sudden your not just blowing your nose once, you're taking another five or ten minutes to wipe the gooey goods from your face. A customer walks in to a coffee shop and where you might have once been able to just toss the napkin and move on, now you awkwardly stand there wiping the tubules of snot from your face. And don't get me started on coughing and sneezing, 'cause that always brings up something and its bound to get tangled in some of the brown straw sprouting from my face. C'mon Sickness Lord, just let me get better.

2. In a hilarious turn of events I spent almost an hour and a half last night wearing only a pair of light blue boxer briefs and tweed Toms, in the space behind my refrigerator, cleaning up rotting food and stepping on cockroaches. Big, fat, nasty cockroaches, that squooshed on to my shoes and never seemed to die. I've never really lived in a real city before (Seattle lovers I apologize) and seemingly real cities involve cockroaches, and after we'd realized that these buggers were taking over the kitchen, inch by inch, we take militant action and thus I ended up, bleach spray and cockroach killers wielded in each hand, near-naked battling their spiny forces. I gagged, several times.

The Film: 500 Days of Summer
The Director: Marc Webb

What Is It?: The uber-hyped romantic comedy by hotshot new director Marc Webb. You could fit the term "disappointing" in their, but I won't say where.

The Experience: Alex and I watched this film on the plane back from New York and I must say that without the pressurized air and confinement of the tubular cabin holding me down, I would've made it through perhaps five minutes of this film.

Something Interestin': Wow, I couldn't imagine there was anything terribly interesting to be found in the shadowy halls of this film, and I was right. The best I could find? That Zooey Deschanel's is named after the titular character in J.D. Salinger's Franny & Zooey. How, yawn, trite.

Quick Notes:

1. It's a sub-par romantic comedy wrapped in a trendy package.

That note seems to explain itself. This movie starts off with a bang, a collection of quirky visuals that make you think, "Ooooh, this film is going to be quirky and exciting." For five minutes you think that, five glorious moments. And then, splat, down it falls, and all of sudden you're watching each and every shitty rom-com of the last forty years, just tied up with the bow of visual chicanery. Director Marc Webb was and is a music video director and his emphasis on style over substance makes this quite evident. You tricked me once Webb, it won't happen again.

2. My crush on Zooey Deschanel gone.

A huge fault in this movie is telling everyone how amazing Summer (Zooey Deschanel) is, but never showing why. Every terribly written man-child in this film gets a stiff-one for Summer, but never once does Webb or Deschanel make it clear why. Sure, she's a looker (though her hair takes on a sort of helmet-like quality that was off-putting to Alex and I both) but her personality is such dead-weight that it makes Joseph Gordon-Levitt's character seem like more of a love-lorn chump than need be. I also worry that Deschanel's inability to play anything but this sort of always-stoned hot lady bodes exceptionally terribly for her ability to do anything but get type-cast.

3. This movie was really well hyped, but why?

I'm so confused about this film's response. Everyone was just crawling all over each other to say how much they loved this film and how visionary Marc Webb was in terms of his visual usage and blah blah blah. Then you watch the film and you realize that the film barely crawls its way past the mediocre mark and all of sudden it's confusion and shame while you're trying to figure out what the world of critique is coming to.

4. I hate shallow music allusions.

This film is full of trite, shallow allusions to the amazing music the two main characters love, and that's it. They just love this music and instead of it having any sort of theme-related importance or even an important part in their relationship, it's just a bunch of sonic crap thrown in to the film to help make them seem cooler. I don't want my "cool" friends to just talk about how good music is, I want it to mean something to them. And in this, a real shit-savvy piece of junk if you ask me, none of these people care at all.

Final Thoughts: Terrible. I hate each and all who helped trick me in to watching this. Alexandra Healy, I'll speak for you, hate's you as well.

Thursday: Good Hair

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

1 year, 8 months, and QUICK NOTES: THE CRUISE.

The first of the month always brings about some fairly, perhaps relatively, substantial dates. And yes, I understand, the acknowledgment of anniversaries, be them year or month, is considered faux pas in the "cool set", but that's okay. I'm a big sappy ball of snotty goo seventy-five percent of my life anyway, so turning it up a notch a few times a year just comes with the territory. I'll try to keep it to a dull roar though.

Some events of great import that rear their heads upon the first of each month:

1. It's the anniversary of my move to SF. Exactly eight months ago my brother and I, a jumbly ball of anxiety crammed in to a 1996 Honda Civic, cruised across the Golden Gate Bridge en route to our new homes and our new lives. These past 8 months have been challenging and at times rough, but also the happiest of my life. Each day presents something new and wonderful and I find this strange amalgam of a city to be as inspirational as any I've ever set foot in. I've had two jobs in this city (one in a hellish tourist void, the other a tiny hole of community and industry), four different roommates, one Civil War (thanks to two of those roommates), one therapist (a first for me), an unlimited supply of ideas, an unlimited supply of unfinished projects, a small handful of people that I've come to love and appreciate, less than 5 purchased books (I have a problem, this is a big deal), I've loved and lost one goldenrod single-speed bicycle, and that's the just the tip of the iceberg. But most importantly ...

2. I've spent exactly one year with the most special of ladies, the absolute love of my life, Alexandra Healy. One year ago, I staggered home from a grueling mid-shift and stumbled in to what would seem like a brief amazing, impossible, encounter with a girl who lived 816 miles away from me, an encounter that would blossom, through coincidence and a lot of texting, in to something absolutely beautiful. Everyone always tells you all the grim and gory details of living with the person you love, but they never tell you the most important thing: how fucking awesome it is. How you get to wake up each and every morning and right there next to you is the person you hold dearest in the world. How each night before you fade off to sleep you get to wrap an arm around their mid-section and talk about the day. How when you're sick they'll put you in crappy track pants and read you Amy Bender short stories. How you'll always have someone who'll hold your face against their chest when you're sad, and often times even when you're not. How you'll get to explore the person you were and are becoming. How you'll find someone else in this frequently bland world who wants to spend their Thanksgiving watching Cat Dancers and cooking cornish game hens. How hearing the door open will always snap your neck like a whip because it might be them coming home. How all of this can leave you nauseous, elated, ebullient, crackling with nerves, dry-mouthed, shit-faced, teary-eyed, breathless, tense, aroused, exhausted, and on and on. No one ever tells you that, but after spending a year (8 months of it in the same room) with the person I've come to love so exceptionally much, I feel as if I can tell you now. One year. Somebody, somewhere, pop a bottle of champagne.

The Movie: The Cruise
The Director: Bennett Miller (Capote)

What Is It?: A low budget documentary about Timothy "Speed" Levitch, a double-decker tour guide in New York. Basically an hour and half of some of the most intelligent ranting you've ever witnessed.

The Experience: Alex has been talking about this short, shaky little documentary for as long as I've been dating her and after a trip to the Rotten Apple, it became almost mandatory that we supplement our usually voracious documentary fix with this flighty bit of profile. We devoured it, unusually, in a single sitting.

Something Interestin': Director Bennett Miller followed up this film, seemingly shot on his Mom's Super-8 while drunk, with the Oscar-nominated Capote.

Something Else Interestin': Subject Timothy Levitch isn't just the subject of this film, he's also played Puggler the Punk Rock Juggler in something referred to as Xavier: Renegade Angel.

Quick Notes:

1. I suspect deeper issues.

Timothy "Speed" Levitch is assumedly as brilliant as you can get. You can see it in the frantic wave of his hands, the speed-talking, the sort of aloof wandering through the city he loves so dearly, the rattling off of facts as if they were known by any and all, and especially you can see it in the way he seems to have some sort of unending bag of ideas that he's able to reach in to at any point and pull free. It's incredible, but what's even more interesting is what seems to lurk underneath. The frantic charm of Levitch is offset by almost uncontrollable bursts of emotion (anger, sadness, frustration) throwing his usually eccentric and lovable tirades in to a more manic light. Who knows what lies beneath the skin of Levitch, but I'll say this, I knew a fella just like Speed Levitch, and he spent a night in the pokey because in a more manic state he broke in to the Federal Building downtown to try to stop an assassination plot against the President. Just saying.

2. Makes you feel like a filmmaker.

The fact that Bennett Miller, Oscar-nominated director, made this film on the streets of New York for less than it costs James Cameron to wipe his ass is inspiring. The fact that the film is basically a series of close-ups on Timothy Levitch shot on grainy black and white film in the always scenic streets of New York is inspiring. The fact that all it takes is a modicum of skill, an amazing subject, and a borrowed camera to make something of worth, hell, that's inspiring. This is the kind of film, bereft of special effects or computer graphics or even lighting, that slaps you around a little bit, gets your creative juices breaking down the dam of Hollywood that always seems so ominous.

Final Thoughts: A great little picture. I could watch five or six volumes of Levitch just shooting the shit. Maybe he should have a talk show ... or maybe not.

Tomorrow: 500 Days of Summer

Monday, November 30, 2009

THE LADY EVE (103)


The Film: The Lady Eve (103)

The Director: Preston Sturges (Sullivan's Travels (118), Unfaithfully Yours (292))

What Is It?: A classic bit of screwball comedy starring Barbara Stanwyck and the slightly creepy Henry Fonda. A gold-digging con-lady sets her site on the snake-obsessed heir of a massive "ale" company. Fast-talking, slap-sticking, generally nonsensical hilarity ensues aboard boats and in mansions.

The Experience?: Don't judge me but I think I might've watched a non-Criterion edition of this priceless little bit of slapstick puff. I know, I know, let the Criterion Gods lash me in to bloody flails. That said, I watched this entire film in nearly one sitting without falling asleep once. I believe the lack of subtitles and startling surreality may have been the cause. It might also be that I've seen this film two or three times prior to this.

Quick Notes

1. "Let us be crooked, but never common."

Kind of the running theme through out the entire film. It's a film about con artists who steal money, using disguise and sex and what-not, from numbskull rich folk, and the only way you can watch the film is to do so with a slice of smile cut across your face. Con artistry is funny folks! These aren't cons who'll shoot you dead, these are cons who'll swindle you, give the money back, fall in love with you, wheedle a little bit more out and then reform for good. These are 1930s con-artists, the kind you and I and everyone else in the whole wide world just want to hold and love and squeeze. These are well spoken con-artists who can fit in at a dinner table just as easily as they can fit in to a back alley speakeasy. The kind you can bring home to the parents.

2. Small feet = good women; "What does it matter ... if he's rich?"; the roles of men and woman portrayed terribly.

This is a slew of notes I scribbled over the course of the whole film, but they seemed so nicely themed so I tossed 'em together. Clever right? The Lady Eve (103) and possibly every film made in the 30s really bumbles the whole modern male-female dynamic. If one was to live their gendered lives in regards to The Lady Eve (103) men would be looking for pygmy-footed princesses and women would only find attraction in clueless, sometimes creepy members of the upper crust. Also, putting on nice dresses and affecting a bad English accent invariably makes you completely unrecognizable to the man who recently wanted to marry you (take note of that one ladies). Honestly, one of the more interesting facets of this whole quest has been the way that the male/female dynamic is portrayed in different films from different countries in different time periods. Especially interesting is that less than a hundred years ago women were stripped of their strengths (even the massively amazing Barbara Stanwyck can't hold her own in the throws of love with a rich man) and turned in to doe-eyed knockouts hungry only for riches. It's funny sure, but also telling of what the future was foretold to be for women in the 1930s.

3. Barbara fucking Stanwyck

My rant on gender in 1930s films aside, Barbara Stanwyck is amazing. Originally attractive (though semi-rodent looking), drop-dead hilarious, and imbued with a brassy strength reserved only for the hard-headed heroines of screwball comedy - she's outstanding in this, and I presume, every other film she's in. Especially when paired with Henry Fonda's Charles Pike, a bumbling, sycophantic man-child. In the real world, a woman like Stanwyck's Jean Harrington would use Pike as furniture, but as mentioned, this is a film about the 30s and in the 1930's everyone knew that women were just pretty faces, thus, and I'm not giving away much, the allure of a good, rich man is Ms. Harrington's ultimate un-doing. Nonetheless, color me crushin' on the late, great B. Stanwyck.

4. That said, Henry Fonda, yeesh.

Fonda's as famous as anyone in old Tinseltown and if you've seen Grapes of Wrath or any of his Westerns, you'll know why. His performance in The Lady Eve (103) though? Fairly creepy. He's a dawdling (two times I've used dawdling in this post, thank you, thank you) rich kid who loves reptiles and can't seem to realize that with his mattress full of inheritance money he could be shtupping, well, probably anyone. Strangely though, Fonda plays Mr. Charles Pike as a slow-talking dullard, a kind of slack-jawed yokel that exists better in the wild than in the complex game-playing of high society. I mean, that's how he tries to play it. Instead he comes off ala Rock Hudson in All That Heaven Allows (95) - and by that I mean someone you don't want your children to be left alone with. It is near unbelievable that a stone-cold fox like Stanwyck would waste a second on Pike. Creepy bastard.

5. Criterion class collision.

The last three films in the old Criterion Collection have been real introspective peeks in to the way classes work (on some level). Cries & Whispers (101) was a heart-wrenching peek in to the high-societies of Sweden, highlighted by the low-lidded stolen glances of a truly loving maid. The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie (102) was a silly-faced dissection of the rich and all their plodding, bone-headed ways. And The Lady Eve (103) hilariously, at times, casts a sharp-eyed look in to the romantic notions of the rich and beautiful. Can I tell you again why I love Criterion? Because you could probably pair any three films consecutively and find some sort of connection - for each their own - and that's what makes me geek out the most. This isn't just a collection of random films, this a piece of curated art in itself and I'm starving to see what theme we, or I, jump in to next.

Final Thoughts: I've seen this classic a few good times, and I've enjoyed each and every. Throw down your luxurious ideas of a plot that holds together though, this is the 1930s people, anything goes and it goes quite frequently. Barbara Stanwyck, a little piece of my heart is buried with you.

Tuesday: Finally, another What's In Store

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Happy dead birds and pornographic couches.

It's almost Thanksgiving! It's almost time for piles of dead bird and processed cranberries and sittin' around a table giving thanks for the things we take for granted most of the time.

This will be the first of my Thanksgivings, ever, spent away from the Seattle Sanders Brood and I'm a little sad but almost entirely excited as I get to spend the day with the absolutely fabulous Alex Healy. I have a long sort of stream-of-conscious exhalation about Thanksgiving and moving and family and the starting of new traditions, but I'm not up for it today, so maybe next year, around three hundred posts or so, I'll toss my hat in to that ring.

For now, I give you three amazing videos by the stop motion collective PES. Alex Healy showed me the couch-humping video on our very first evening spent together.

I give thanks to couches doing it.

Have a Happy T-Day everyone, be safe.





Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Still battling.

I'm still sick, maybe even sicker than yesterday, but even though my lungs feel like they're filled with prickly ball-bearings and my head feels like a little red balloon of snot, I'm optimistic. If I'm this shitty feeling today (and believe me you, I am) then, in a perfect world, I can only feel better tomorrow. Thus, this phlegm-filled day of work is hopefully the beginning of the end.

Sadly, for you and I believe me, I'm taking another day off writing anything lengthy and just presenting you with another fairly amazing bit of short I stumbled upon on the internet.

Vice Magazine (or Vice TV) puts out some fairly amazing bits of video and I've particularly enjoyed this series of urban exploration shorts they've been putting out. This one below is about the shocking subject of oil wells in ... Los Angeles.

Fascinating. Enjoy.