Thursday, April 30, 2009

MOVIE ORGY!

I usually watch a lot of movies. There was a period of time where I'd made it such a ritual in my life to stagger through a few minutes of a movie before I fell asleep at night, I became unable to sleep without the constant presence of some sort of cinematic vision on screen. I would try and try but without the smash cuts and lingering tracking shots of a film I'd be wide awake, my own thoughts tumbling about in my mind.

Of course though in regards to my filmic intake, it ebbs and flows. A lot of the time I'm obsessive, striving to watch two or three movies a day, and others I'm a movie sloth, finishing one film over the course of weeks and weeks. Right now, I'm at a near peak in terms of movie consumption. I've been blowing through Criterion films and documentaries like candy and it's been, well, fucking exciting. I thought I'd share some of the non-Criterion films I'd been watching, you know, to perhaps talk about a few films we've all actually seen.

1. Plagues and Pleasures on The Salton Sea dir. Chris Metzler

This is great little documentary about an area of California referred to as the Salton Sea. It's an accidental sea created by salty run-off that at one point was considered to be the French Riviera of the state. Unfortunately due to pollution and ignorance the lake turned in to a salty sort of fishy-death trap. This film follows the Sea's history while showcasing the residents who continue to live near its barren shores. John Waters, he of Flamingo fame narrates. It's quirky and wacky and there's a lot of fish and bird death. I found it quite entertaining.

2. American Swing dir. Matthew Kaufman & Jon Hart

This film has the makings of an excellent documentary. It's the story of a truly sex-tastic, well, swinger's club in New York City called Plato's Retreat and the owner who battled police and censorship to allow it to thrive. Sounds fascinating right? Well, this documentary was not. It was interesting but moved at an inconsistent rate and couldn't figure out if it wanted to be a film about sex in the '70s, censorship in general, or just a story about a bunch of people who really enjoyed getting it on. There are great interviews, but I found the film only slightly entertaining when I was expecting far more.

3. Milk dir. Gus Van Sant

I already talked about this film two days ago, but it's a part of the filmic orgy so I'll bring it up again. This is a good film that should've been great about an amazing figure and an amazing movement. I wanted to be more inspired, but it definitely opened the floor for some great discussion at my house. Regardless, the acting is fantastic, and Sean Penn certainly deserved this Oscar.

4. Made In U.S.A. (481) dir. Jean Luc Goddard

This is actually on it's way to becoming a Criterion film, but I saw it at the amazing Castro Theatre as a part of its road show. I'll blame a taxing road trip and the beauty of the theatre, but I slept through most of this oddball take on the American crime film. It was strange, and the parts I caught were quite interesting, but I can't have a full take on the film as I was curled up in Slumberland for the majority of it.

Four films! That's a shit-ton and that's while finishing a record four Criterion films in a week. I'm positively assured to not hit this mark again as I have two hours of Laurence Olivier's Hamlet (82) to slog through this weekend, but still, not bad right?

Friday: Variety Lights (81)

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Someone is confused and THE ELEMENT OF CRIME (80)

A story about a very confused individual:

Alex and I are walking down Valencia last week, just chatting, on our way to lord knows where for what, when a dirty white car, chock full of bearded men (I can't recall if they were actually bearded, it just fits my vision more) roll past us. For whatever reason I'm idly staring at the street and this car, so I'm quite aware when one of these bearded boys sticks his head out the window, stares directly at me and screams:

"You're art show fucking sucks faggot!"

And then hastily sped away. Now this presents a few issues: first off, my bearded friend, I'm not gay. Thus your referral of me as a homosexual in such a crass way is not only rude, and painfully out of place in a town like San Francisco, but incorrect. Secondly, I have not, as of yet, ever had an art show of any kind, in San Francisco or any other city, thus your intonation that my current art show might be not up to standards is pretty delusional. I usually take a good deal of offense to being yelled at from a car. I can't explain it, just the pure randomness of picking some shmuck (me) off the street and screaming at them for no apparent reason chaps my cheeks. Usually I fill with anger and I want to find some object and toss it through their back window. This time, I looked at Alex, laughed and just yelled:

"Please sir, I only want your insults to make sense."

It also crossed my mind that maybe his insulting of my faux-art show was actually the mark of an intelligent insulter. Perhaps if he'd had more time he would of yelled something along the lines of, "Pardon me cock sucker, but I think your referring to your art as 'post-modern' is an affront to all those who came before you" or "I thought your choice of colors poorly represented your themes and narratives." You know smart insulting.

Lars Von Trier is one of those directors that everyone appreciates more and more, the longer they spend time with him. I saw Breaking The Waves years ago and was completely baffled by the weird colors and strangely sexual plot. It was interesting, but I just couldn't figure out what I was watching. I've seen almost all of his films since then, and honestly, with each one I've appreciated his abilities and his filmmaking more.

The Elements of Crime (80)
, his first film, is one of the greatest visual showcases I've ever seen. The story of a series of murders in a Germany gone mad is as creepy and visually haunting as anything I've seen before. Von Trier choses to fill the palates of the film with only shades of sepia and black, giving each and every moment of the film this eerie, almost old fashioned sort of look. Couple this with a film that revolves around body parts, dead donkeys, caged whores and a whole lot of sweaty miscreants, and you have a film that pops off the screen. Even more so when Von Trier chooses to bring a light burst of blue to the screen in a light or a television or the reflection in someone's eye. Every shot is entirely different from the next, each a beautiful blur of background, movement and camera work. I was blown away over and over again.

If this film had been only a visual treat I would've been happy, but jesus upon jesus, if the story of four murders in Germany and the ex-cop who buries himself in to the crimes to solve them wasn't as layered and engaging as just about any I've seen. "The Element of Crime" refers to the method of solving crime where you literally become the killer, and exiled police officer Fisher (Michael Elphick) digs in to the mind of serial killer Harry Grey and his journey through it is fascinating.

Even more amazing in this film is the narration, as Fisher starts the film in the office of a psychiatrist, trying to remember what came before, and as we find ourselves deeper and deeper in the mind of Fisher, who in turn is deep in to the mind of Harry Grey, it becomes more and more apparent that some of this wild visual density is just Fisher's mind going off: a pool of dead donkeys, tiny cars in tiny tunnels, a sexy tryst involving windshield wipers - all of it could just be Fisher's incorrect memory. Or it could be the truth. We never really know, but the journey through each layer is absolutely enthralling.

Thursday: Variety Lights (81)

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

MILK

I had one of the more surreal and amazing film experiences of my life last night, and it had nothing to do with how much I enjoyed the movie, rather the surrounding and the people I was with. I went and saw Milk, Gus Van Sant's much vaunted bio-pic about SF City Supervisor and gay rights super advocate Harvey Milk. I went and saw the film in the beautiful Castro Theater, right across the street from where Harvey Milk stood on a soap box and declared "I'm Harvey Milk, and I want to recruit you." Right up the street from Castro Cameras where Harvey Milk and a crew of dedicated men and women decided they wanted to better the world. I sat in this theatre and watched a film about his life.

It was surreal in the best way. They showed, over and over again, the big beautiful sign for the Castro Theatre and every single time, my heart fluttered, because we were literally sitting inside this very same theatre, a part of the city Harvey Milk helped to define. It was a beautiful feeling and at the same time quite sad as the film revolves around Milk's battle to repeal Proposition 6, a law that would've, if not for Milk, forced gay teachers and their supporters out of schools. We sat and watched how thirty years ago Harvey Milk fought for the rights of these men and women, and not a soul in the theatre couldn't have not been thinking about how California just recently passed Proposition 8, a thematically similar piece of law. You couldn't help but shake your head.

I don't know if Milk is a movie to critique in public circles. Gay rights, as they should be, are still a sensitive topic and a movie about one of the true figureheads of the movement, I think, is almost automatically put up on a pedestal. I think the story of Harvey Milk and the change he fought for is an amazing bit of history. That said I didn't find Gus Van Sant's depiction of this story to be mindblowing, hell, at times I found it to be melodramatic and subject to the same tedious biopic pics so many films of this type fall prey to. And though I feel that, I find it difficult to argue these points because of the emotion and, in many cases, history tied to the events of the film. It makes it difficult to try and discuss the movie as simply that, a film, subject to all the rights and wrongs of filmmaking any movie can be.

That said, there were many parts of the film I found truly enjoyable: Sean Penn, as he is more and more, was a revelation a Harvey Milk, a character that you loved and rooted for, all the while feeling his life slip away from home in the face of his great passion; I loved James Franco's Scott Smith and Josh Brolin's Dan White is a testament to the man's ability to chameleon himself in to just about any character; I enjoyed the usage of archival footage as it brought me in to the time period in a non-invasive, non corny way. Unfortunately, as much as I wanted it to, the film just didn't add for me. I love Gus Van Sant, I just don't know if he's up to directing big budget features. He's too set on trying to meld his avant garde ways with this urge to sate the big budget audience and what you get is overly swelling strings coupled with shaky cameras and not only is it off-putting, it's downright obnoxious. They scenes where the crippled gay kid call Harvey Milk were so distracting and so painfully manipulative I nearly screamed.

Finally, Alex made a great point last night, that Milk is sort of "gay-light", a sort of timid introduction to the struggles and plights of gays in America, and both of us agreed, this is probably for the better. A bigger, edgier, hell, gayer film probably wouldn't have landed Sean Penn an Oscar (as sad as that might be), thus negating a lot of the amazing effect and spotlight ability this film had. I've heard the documentary, The Live and Times of Harvey Milk is a far more completist view of the story and I can't wait to dig in to that, as it really is an amazing story and truly inspiring, if not saddening part of this country's history.

I wanted to like this film more, but I couldn't get past Van Sant's shoddy directing. I implore to see it though, and see what one person can do, and to make your own opinion about the film. Really, it'll be worth your dollar.

Wednesday: The Element of Crime (80)

Monday, April 27, 2009

It's just like riding a bike again and W.C. FIELDS - SIX SHORT FILMS (79)

I think I said at some point on this blog that I've recently purchased a bike. To most this doesn't seem to be a big deal, but I've been actively avoiding riding bikes for four or five years now and the idea that I've actually taken the time and effort to find a bike and the purchase said bike and am now "riding" this bike as much as possible is honestly a huge leap forward for me. Sad? Maybe. Invigorating? Possibly. Mostly though, it's been ego-bruising.

Turns out I'm pretty awful at riding a bike. All that talk about "it's just like getting back on a bike" seemingly don't apply to me. My ankles, legs, hands, and sensitive nether-regions are a testament to the number of times shuddered to a stop, dragging my chain/pedal across some exposed part of my body. I don't know what it is, but I'm just not that good at bike-riding. I went on what's referred to as a Cougar Run last Wednesday, two days after getting my bike, and in front of a group of true bike enthusiast I ate complete shit, twice. Asidet from that I was asked by a burly man named Jeremiah if the bike I was struggling to get on to (in my defense, I was wearing a very short, very exposing dress) was in fact my bike at all. I certainly left the evening red-faced, bloody and with a smited self-confidence.

Strangely enough, my biggest surprise is how annoyed I am that I'm not good at bike-riding. I guess I just assumed through my life that I'd be decent at least at everything I tried and this has proven me quite wrong. In turn this has exposed another daunting aspect: the reason why I've been unknowing of this inability to be bad at things is probably because for the last few years of my life, I haven't been trying very many new things. And now that I'm in a new city with new people and new, well, shit to try, I'm realizing that I'm not going to be good at all of it, that I'm going to have to struggle and as frightening as that is, it's actually pretty fucking exhilarating.

W.C. Fields - Six Short Films (79) should've come first in the W.C. Fields section of The Criterion Collection as it's more of a historical view of the growth of the W.C. Field's character. Truthfully, I have very little to say about this collection of shorts. I found The Bank Dick (78) to be funny in a pretty corny, dated way and these shorts, many made long before that film, were even cornier and more dated and I struggled to keep myself interested.

Fields is rightfully a comedic legend. He's a truly hilarious physical comedian and as he developed as a comedian, he added this sort of under-the-breath insult that just cracks me up. Unfortunately six of his short films, watched in one marathon session, completely bored me. It's just the same thing over and over and over again. W.C. Fields is some sort of business owner and oh the wacky things W.C. Fields can do with his customers. The most interesting thing I read about these films are the idea of Field's being this well received misanthrope. A true asshole, but one who somehow ended up charming the pants of an entire country. If you watch the films, the shorts especially, he is particularly mean-spirited. He hates his customers, loves torturing them in bizarre ways, and seems completely racist in most scenes. Perhaps it was the air of the time, or just the general way things were done back in the day, but he was accepted and revered for this mean-spirit.

Watch these films if you're a completist, if not just stick with The Bank Dick (78) or the thirty or forty other of his feature length films I've never seen and probably never will.

Tuesday: The Element of Crime (80)

Thursday, April 23, 2009

What's In Store #4!

I've come to love this part of my blog. The point where I realize I've powered through another set of Criterion films and a whole slew of new works stand to be viewed by me and whomever I can trick in to sitting through 'em with me.

My last batch of films was one of the more enjoyable, if not romantically inclined set of films, I'vew watched so far and as I stare down at this upcoming precipice of films I can't help but wonder if this is going to be nearly as enjoyable. I'm also curious as to what theme will pop up in the films. I've found that there are runs of themes that cut through different sections of the Criterion catalog (death, love, religion, flank steaks) and I'm always curious as to what will pop up next.

Alright, I'm just dorkily rambling now, so let me get on to what hurdles I'll have to leap in these next few weeks ...

#80. The Element of Crime dir. Lars Von Trier

Couldn't be more excited for this film. Lars Von Trier is one of the more exciting, daring filmmakers working today and though I can't say I love every film he's put out (Breaking The Waves still makes me cringe), each and all are worth a viewing for the man's creative audacity. This is a post-apocalyptic crime story involving serial killers and cops gone terribly wrong. I'm a little short of breath just waiting for it.

#81. Variety Lights dir. Federico Fellini & Alberto Lattuada

It takes a few films to start to really love Fellini, and that's why I'm so happy to be investing in this Quest 'o' mine. Fellini is a mainstay of the Criterion Collection, and over the course of the last 80 films I've found myself eagerly anticipating each and every film of his that pops up (and there is many). This is Fellini's collaboration with a neo-realist, a collaboration that features his wife Giulietta Masina (the stunning star of Nights of Cabiria (49)) in a main role. Say what you will about the artsy fartsy folk and their love for Fellini, but dumbly excited about adding another notch in my Fellini bed post.

#82 Hamlet dir. Laurence Olivier

The presence of yet another Olivier Shakespeare adaptation on the list makes my stomach curdle. Olivier's Henry V (41) nearly killed me, and I can only imagine the melodramatic qualities of his Hamlet (82) will inflict me with a similar type of pain. Olivier's takes on Shakespeare are so theatrically based that I've little clue as to why they're actually put on screen. I am already clawing at my eyeballs in dread.

#83 The Harder They Come dir. Perry Henzell

Luckily for me, as soon as Hamlet (82) falls to the wayside, I'm throwing in this reggae-scented film about a musician-turned-outlaw. If you've ever heard Jimmy Cliff's music, and you're a fan of the weed-soaked tunes of reggae, this movie will do it for you. It's lo-fi and low-budget and supposedly an absolute blast. Hopefully it'll clear the taste of Olivier from my sensitive tastebuds.

#84.
Good Morning dir. Yasujiro Ozu

There's directors on this list who are spoken in hushed tones by film geeks of the world and Yasujiro Ozu is one of those. A real powerhouse of Japan filmmaking that, in some circles is as renowned as Kurosawa. I've never even dipped a pinky ring in to his works though and, as I am with all new directors, I'm cautiously excited.

This is a mixed-bag for me, but when you're ascending the peaks of the Criterion Quest, it's often times going to be. Keep reading friends! And if you get a chance, spread the good word.

Friday: W.C. Fields - Six Short Films (79)

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Suntarded and THE BANK DICK (78)

It has been three days of furnace like heat here in San Francisco. Just muggy, blazing heat that has pushed sweat from my pores in record amounts. I can't remember a moment over the course of the last three days where I haven't felt the cooling trickle of sweat dripping down some part of my body. This has brought about a couple of realizations:

1. I work with coffee, and thus my hands are usually covered with some sort of espresso related goo. Thus when the heat starts and the sweat starts, this sort of brown ooze begins to trickle off my hands. Yesterday afternoon as I was dutifully pounding away at this little computer of mine, I looked down and there was a puddle of coffee and sweat pooled where my hands had been resting. All I could do was sit and watch it seep in to the stained white cover that rests atop my keyboard. Disgusted might be a proper definition.

2. I'm worthless when the heat sets in. I spent all day yesterday, floating atop a drippy lake of sweat, mouthing the words "I'm so hot" to any one who'd listen. I'd conjured up my usual daily list of errands and planned on accomplishing each and all, but as soon as I stepped out in to the sweltering heat, my plans for the day changed drastically. What had been a multi-stop errand bonanza quickly turned in to a two-part journey: milkshake, beer, flee from heat. All were accomplished and then I returned to the Safari (Alex and I's room) and once again, mouth sticky from chocolate, floundered in the sultry excess of the day.

3. Hot nights are the best. Alex and I strolled through The Mission last night and everybody, EVERYBODY was out on the streets. Bike riding, beer drinking, carousing, just enjoying the balmy respite. This sun-baked community that emerges in the midst of heat always inspires me, as much as a cold evening by ones lonesome, collar turned against the wind, always depresses me. All we did was walk, through streets still leaking the day's heat, but being apart of the crowds enjoying the evening's warm embrace, was just another reminder of how happy I am to be where I am.

Old comedy is a strange concept. What we find funny these days, no matter what anyone says, is completely different than what we found funny ten years ago, let alone seventy years ago. Couple this with my brother's long ago dismissal of W.C. Field's classic The Bank Dick (78) and I wasn't exactly excited for this film. I've struggled through a good deal of 1930s and 1940s comedies in my day, and it's a hit-and-miss sort of endeavor. Sometime the snappy dialogue and sort of slap stick vibe that courses through so many of them blows your mind, and sometimes your just staring at a bunch of amateur theater actors, completely baffled that people once laughed at this.

The Bank Dick (78) surprised the hell out of me. Sure, it's certainly dated in terms of its comedic form. W.C. Fields was a vaudeville legend turned short-film comedian turned comedic legend and you can see all of this at work in the film. W.C. Fields plays Egbert Souse, a drunken know-it-all who generally stumbles around, falling in to various situations and somehow managing to lie his way to fame and fortune. It's really just a loose narrative cobbled together to give Fields a chance to showcase his humor. I mean the film jumps from Fields as an unemployed, well, souse, to Fields as an ad hoc film director, to Fields as a hero, to Fields as a bank security guard, to Fields as a multi-millionaire. To say the least, story is not the strong point of the film.

But you know what? It doesn't matter. Fields is hilarious in most scenes. He plays this sort of loveable drunk who's always causing problems while spitting out these classic one liners. I can't imagine that the W.C. Fields of real life and the W.C. Fields of his films were much different, he just seems so at ease in this sort of loveable lout. I found myself chuckling more than once not only at his delivery but at his ability to take simple props and use them as parts of his routine. He's almost Kramer-esque in his shocked flailing as well. He'll bump in to a person or a tree or a bench and just flail in this subtle brilliant way. I couldn't help but chuckle every time.

The strangest part about the film was how there's words used, English words and phrases, that I've never heard before. Just strings of syllables that in the late 1930s must've meant something, but today, nothing. Just babble. Shocked the hell out of me.

This was a pleasant surprise. And I'm actually a bit excited to tear through the six W.C. Field's shorts that make up the next Criterion selection.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Happiness is a burden plus AND GOD CREATED WOMAN (77)

I know that many of you think that my blog has suffered as of late because of swamped down with this new life I'm building down here and I'm just making paltry excuses as to why I can't watch Criterion films and thus can't write about them for you. To a great extent, this is very true, and I appreciate your derisive comments you judgmental assholes.

On the other hand I'm facing a bit of a problem. I'm a bit of cynic. A sort of part time pessimist who derives a lot of my humor from a sort of good-hearted need to jokingly criticize things. That's how I've always been and in a lot of ways, it's directly influenced my writing and my subject matter. Thus, for 100 posts or so before I moved to SF, I happily berated a number of subjects that strayed through my life, never fearing that I'd ever run out of material to lambast.

And then I moved to SF and I'm stunningly happy here. Not to say I wasn't happy in Sea-town, but I'd sort of nestled myself in to a cubby hole of contentment and from that vantage point I was able to see the frayed edges a bit better. Now, now I'm immersed in a new world, a lovely lady, a job I'm learning to enjoy, and seriously, no shitting you, I'm having a hard time writing. I've always scoffed at those Debbie Downers who claim that art is suffering and all that dried camel dung, but I'm a bundle of flavorless goo right now and everytime I sit down to write something, it's almost a struggle to find a target to aim at. I just dumbly smile at the screen, my eyes all glossed over and puppy dog and try to find an annoyance I have right now.

I know, pity me, I'm fucking happy. But seriously chums and chummettes, my work is losing its edge. I'm not crowing for change here, I'm just saying, your unimpressed stares are noted and I'm attempting to explain myself.

Maybe I'll go stand in the street and see if a car hits me, that might add a bit of flavor to this vanilla flavored weblog.

You know, I enjoy ogling a beautiful woman as much as the next completely-bereft-of-class individual and I certainly love a good French film as much as any self-respecting film dork, but there was something about And God Created Woman (77) that I couldn't get in to. That something was certainly Brigitte Bardot and her much-maligned slut character. The film follows Juliette (Brigitte Bardot), a beautiful woman on the tiny island of St. Tropez as she fucks and fights her way in to one shitty situation after another. I don't know if the term "home wrecker" existed before this film, but if not, here's your origin point dictionary writers. Juliette has no aim in life, no goal, she's just a stunning orphan (aside from this hideous coke bottle bangs) who wants attention, attention, and, well, more attention. She fixates on a family of ship building brothers and all but screws them to dissolution. For good reason, Bardot's Juliette reminded me of a brand of female I've known many times in my life, and, as a good character should I guess, it sort of grossed me out. There was a time, long ago, when this sort of attention seeking lady would draw me in, and eventually spit me out, and watching a 1950s version writ large, did nothing but annoy me.

A bit of twisted history about the film: Brigitte Bardot, when this film was made, was 18 years old just like her character. She was also married to the director, Roger Vadim, and had been for, yikes, three entire years. Thus, Bardot was married when she was 15 and cast as a teenage strumpet only three years later, by her husband. Seemingly, this wasn't a huge stretch for the attractive Frenchie, but jesus, if that's doesn't blur the line between art and reality as much as anything, I don't know what does.

There is something about Juliette in the film that drew me in though, which is the way Vadim balances her character as riding this fine line between child and adult. She's almost a woman-child in the film, a little girl who, and I think the film marks her role as an orphan as the cause, she's never experienced a true childhood. Instead of seeking that childhood though, Juliette abandons it, and instead pushes to become a woman. In a scene in her room, she saunters about whispering to her bunny and her bird and her kitten and the audience can't help but wonder how this little girl got so damn screwed up.

Before I go, I just want to belittle my brother a bit: he claimed that the sex scene on the beach was one of the more erotic in memory, and Alex and I were waiting to see just how hot this scene might be. But it came and went, and I felt as if maybe the DVD skipped, because what I saw was short and not stimulating in the smallest. I chalk this up to my brother's misunderstanding of the term "erotic". Don't judge him, he was a later bloomer. Love you brother!

By the way, if you want to read a fantastic essay about this film, please, go HERE, Chuck Stephens is as good a film writer as any and this is a fantastic break down of the sexual phenomenon that was Brigitte Bardot.

Wednesday: The Bank Dick (78)

Monday, April 20, 2009

A visit with the police and a bad excuse as to why AND GOD CREATED WOMAN (77) has barely been watched.

Ask anyone who knows me at all, I'm not much of a driver. Brief history: failed my driver's test three times (could've easily been four if not for my father's failure to bring an insurance card), gave up on the whole driving thing for years and years and years, thanks to the kindness of a good friend drove illegally for two months before getting my license two days before I graduated ... from college.

Since then I've driven sporadically, usually with breaks of six or more months in between and hell, I've been pretty happy with it. Low gas-payments, a love of walking, and no run-ins with Johnny Law.

Until last night. The story of last night:

1. I accompanied Alex on one of her childcare jobs, a babysitting gig for two of the coolest people, let alone parents I've met in a while. Just fun-loving people with a fantastic child that couldn't have been more warm, open and inviting. We got there, martinis were drank (babysitting is always better with a few under your belt), Elmo Pasta was served. And then, there was a knock at the door. Drunken parents needed a ride to the theatah, they were late and Taylor Hicks and Grease were waiting.

2. This found me ten minutes later, cruising the city streets of SF (city driving, another thing I've never done) in a monstrous Chevy Avalanche with four extremely drunk women generally cursing, screaming, and having a blast of a good time. Of course all of these women have two minutes before the show starts, and I'm gunning this tank of a vehicle through the streets of a city I barely know. My passengers jump out, literally jump out, at their destination and I'm off, alone and in a city I know nothing about.

3. And I quickly realize I have no idea where I am. I'm in a huge downtown in an unfamiliar car and I'm completely lost and my only reaction is to pick up my cellphone and call Alex ... which it turns out is totally illegal in this wonky state and seconds later I find myself pulled to the curb with a mustached police officer asking for my license and registration (neither of which are in the car). All of a sudden I'm worried that my breath smells like booze, and then the heated seat cushion starts firing on all pistons and I'm sweaty and dealing with the police, and for whatever reason all I can think is, "this shit always happens to me ... and I wouldn't have it any other way."

Mr. Mustache left me with a nice little citation and court appearance. Hopefully my sheer charm and baffled ignorance will help me shirk what might just be a hefty fine.

I had an entire weekend to watch this movie, and try I did, but due to an inability to stay awake during movies after consuming any amount of alcohol, and the fact that I'm rippling with excitement about all the shit I want to do in this city with Alex, I didn't finish it. Hell, I barely made it to the five minute mark on my first try, and ably bungled my second attempt to watch the film as well.

Thus, hopefully, I'll be able to get through it tonight and have something to say manyana.

I'd say sorry, but I'm not.

Tuesday: And God Created Woman (77)

Thursday, April 16, 2009

My brother, Justin Sanders on AND GOD CREATED WOMAN (77)

I'd like to introduce my older and less-good looking sibling, one Justin Sanders, who's become obsessed with French films in the last few months and begged, even pleaded with me to let him review And God Created Woman (77). He's unctuously persuasive, so after a few hours of his weasel-y pleads, I gave in.

Thus, Justin Sanders everyone:

Howdy devoted readers of the Criterion Quest!

Special guest blogger Justin here, comin' at you from sunny Los Angeles, CA. I'm on the "Arty '60s French Dude" beat here at the Quest, as I am a great fan of those guys' steadfast commitment to introverted surrealism, and to showing Brigitte Bardot's ass whenever possible.

I also happen to be Noah's older brother. There are some benefits to being closely related by blood to the blog's administrator. One is that I can share fun stories from Noah's past that he for some reason refuses to relate himself, perhaps to keep himself shrouded in his signature cape of aloof mystery. This elusive scribe of the online realm won't tell you, for instance, that when he was seven, he was the victim of a snowball barrage in the backyard courtesy of myself and my friend Bobby. Oh how we pelted him, until he fled screaming towards the pine trees, hands waving at the air as if fighting off a swarm of bees. Upon reaching the vicinity of tree #1, a big ol' bushy mother, he slipped on something buried in the snow with such force, momentum actually carried him on his back beneath the tree's thick branches and out of sight, as if an invisible toboggan had carted him off to a secret underground world. There was a brief silence, and then he emerged, covered with snow and pine needles, in a frenzy of helpless rage, to which we naturally responded by howling with laughter. As he passed us on his way back into the house to cry to mommy, the mystery of what he'd slipped on became solved: A perfect line of smeared dog shit ran from the back of his collar all the way down to his waistline.

Oh, the times we had. But I digress. You've come today to learn about Roger Vadim's lustful classic, And God Created Woman (77).

The first thing I want to say about this film is at first I thought it was directed by an American, as the moniker "Roger," to me, seems as American a name as Maddox, Zahara, or Pax. Turns out it derives from the French, and is thus likely pronounced "Roh - szhare" or something equally entrancing.

Secondly, Brigitte Bardot, like Hamlet or The Iliad, is timeless. She is timelessly hot. In 2,000 years, when the prevalence of machines and robots have caused our muscles to atrophy and we have become scarily thin and flimsy like the alien humanoids generally thought to be populating UFOs, we will watch ancient footage of her curvacious performances and still become intensely aroused. I have recently moved to LA, and subsequently have been separated from my girlfriend Sarah by many hundreds of miles. I won't go into details, but as a result, And God Created Woman (77) was particularly pleasant and frustrating to watch for me, in alternating doses.

I like these old French films because they're unconcerned with riveting plots or purposeful narrative flow. They linger, they take their time, and they don't worry about tying everything up in a nice, tidy bow. This quality extends from the extreme weirdness of Godot's Alphaville (25) and Week-end to films like this one, which is pretty straightforward, yet eventfully uneventful. Bardot plays Juliette, a pouty, luscious 18-year-old beauty (she's really stretching here) who drives every man she encounters crazy with lust. All the men in the movie want her, and all the women loathe and mistrust her, which seems to be a pretty accurate depiction of hot women's lives in general.

Juliette is a sexually energized orphan living with foster parents in a small oceanside town, where she gets into it with a family of three brothers who run a humble little boat repair business. She lusts after the older, brooding brother, Antoine, but winds up marrying the younger, more innocent brother Michel, not because she loves him, but to avoid getting shipped off to the orphanage by her guardians, who have grown tired of her tawdry ways. When Antoine, who is away most of the time, returns home permanently to negotiate a deal with a local developer who wishes to buy out the family business, a spark re-ignites between him and her, and trouble ensues.

This film made waves upon its release in 1957, and it's easy to see why. My modern, entirely corrupted, desensitized brain found Bardot so sexy it nearly hurt; I can't imagine what the conservative movie-going public must have made of her more than a half-century ago. There must have been riots in the streets. People's heads must have literally exploded, spraying gobs of brain matter and bloody hair and skull fragments in every direction. In the very first scene, for crying out loud, Bardot enters the screen naked, the camera moving tenderly over her maddening curves, driving the imagination wild with what lies just out of view. Bardot's performance never goes deeper than steady sensual pout mode, but Vadim, as great directors do, uses this persona well. Juliette lives to tempt men, and the movie's drama stems from her struggle to fight her true essence while in the thick of an unwanted marriage. We know she doesn't want to be there. She knows she doesn't want to be there, and it's only a matter of time before she cracks and the shit hits the fan.

There's a famous dance number in And God Created Woman (77) in which Juliette gets drunk and gets down with some musicians in the bar, dancing provocatively on the table in a slit skirt that leaves little to the imagination. And while this scene is nice, my personal favorite was the one where she stole one of the brothers' boats and took it out on the sea, where it promptly caught fire. Older brother Antoine heroically swims out to rescue her, and the exhausted, sand-covered interaction that ensues has to be one of the most erotic moments ever filmed.

---

Thanks a lot Pervert Sanders. You always know how to creep out everyone. Justin writes a pretty great blog about his recent move to LA and his attempts to become a thirty year old Hollywood star called Parade of Delusions, which I highly recommend.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

A weekend in SF and BRIEF ENCOUNTER (76)

This is what a weekend in SF looks like I think most times:

1. Friday: I work for the record label in the morning. I dilly-dally about on the interwebs developing kinks in my slouchy back and continuing steadily older contacts with people I've never seen in cities I may never visit. In the afternoon I help Alex take her liege, a precocious young lady named Firefly, to a cooking class at an Urban Playground. Children eat colored pudding and I realize that any child within ten feet of me almost instantly makes me tired. For our efforts in corralling young Firefly we're awarded a car for the evening. We drive to the East Bay (a foreign and exotic place full of steel structures and magical beings) for what Alex refers to as an "East Bay Adventure". We eat gigantic slices of Zachary's pizza and drink Indian lager in a hybrid Honda. We pay ten dollars for all you can play pinball at a hole-in-the-wall joint with over a hundred machines and a "pinball museum". I fall asleep tipsy and outstandingly happy.

2. I work, early. Tourists are beasts, evil, non-tipping beasts that wear dowdy sweatshirts and demand things in tones that make my skin crawl. I fight the urge to throw hot beverages in their faces, on their North Face parkas, in their poorly did hair. Alex suggests we make a "mint-themed" dinner. In the world of cooking titles, we are sous chefs, choppers at best, and our executive chef menu design skills are lacking. We plan a meal rife with veggies and mint and rice and invite over a crowd. Dinner starts cooking at 9:30. At 11:30 we finally eat a meal of crunchy rice-filled peppers, mushrooms and rancid cucumber sauce. Somebody retches at one point.

3. I work, early. Tourists are beasts, and my tip jar, regardless of the volume of customers stays near-empty through out the day. I put on a fake smile and fight the desire to leap across the counter and strangle a wrinkly-faced geriatric. Alex, the roommates and I attend a "Hunky Jesus Contest" in celebration of Jesus Day. It is like a rock concert, a huge gay rock concert, and I am surrounded by half naked Jesusii and strapping men in platform shows and nun make-up. Everyone is drinking, everyone is smoking, everybody must get high. It is unlike any Easter I've ever celebrated. There are no dyed eggs, no chocolate bunnies, just a general celebration of this crazy life we've all been given. It is refreshing.

That was my weekend, and I believe every weekend from this point forward will be a variation on this. This town is amazing, crazy, ridiculous, overwhelming, and I am almost bursting just from being here.

Brief Encounter (76) is at times compared to the sultry foreignness of Casablanca and I think in the sheer brilliance of the film, it deserves that comparison. That and the fact that both films are about ill-fated romances. Aside from that I think I'd compare this film more so to the noirs (I know I said this yesterday, I'm trying to fucking make a point here) of the early 40s. There's a saying that describes film noir, "Anybody can do anything if put in the right situation" and this ably describes the collapsing world of Laura Jesson. She falls in love with a suave doctor in a far off town that she spends hers days in, and when there's even a hint of trouble, Mrs. Jesson, a mother of two, a loving wife, a dutiful housekeeper, turns quite rapidly in to a deceiver of the highest regards. All of sudden she's creating situations, lying to her family and friends, drawing others unwittingly in to her web of deceit. She's forced in to a situation she doesn't want to abandon, and she'll do anything to keep it. If pushed further, I believe Laura Jesson would kill or maim or kidnap, like any good femme fatale, to make this love work.

The films noir underminings continue through out, including the depressing, almost suffocating nature of the ending of the film. Laura Jesson loses her man. He disappears to South Africa and as the camera twists and turns in classic noir dutch angles, Laura Jesson's only respite is suicide. A path she doesn't take. And as she sits in her home with her chattering husband, staring in to the fire, the crushing realization that she's experience truly what life is and that she'll remain on it's exterior forever is heart-breaking. Brief Encounter (76) is the best sort of movie, a film that touches on genres - romance and noir - but doesn't feel trapped within there bindings. Instead it uses them to bolster its story of love and loss and the desperation of living a life you weren't cut out for. Absolutely a must see.

Here's an awesome essay about the film as well, that you should certainly read.

Thursday: And God Created Woman (77)

Monday, April 13, 2009

Moving pangs and BRIEF ENCOUNTER (76)

My move to SF has been almost entirely seamless. I found a way to get down here that did minimal damage to my bank account, I scored a job in the weeks before I got here, I have a place to live and a wonderful girlfriend that has been a huge part of the move feeling so easy - I consider myself quite lucky.

But, no matter how perfect everything goes (and it has) there are, I assume, always wee bits of moving pangs that come along with this sort of large-scaled transition. I worked all morning from home, stuffing envelopes, contacting blogs, semi-boring stuff that involved a lot of me staring at a computer and wishing I was outside doing something warm and exhausting. I'm done now though with all the hum-drum aspects of my morning and I'm excited to be out doing something, but all of sudden I've realized that, I don't really have that many people in SF to do anything with.

I know, I mean I've only been here for two weeks, but the sudden come-to that to a certain degree I'm a bit limited in my social interactions was a bit of a shock. All of sudden, I'm keen to get out in the sun and you know, be hanging out, and I'm struggling to find someone to do so with. It's okay though, this will get better, and I'm lucky enough to have Alex and my awesome roommates and Good Man Freytag to hang out with. This is just a momentary pang, it'll fade.

What I love most about Brief Encounter (76) is how it's a romance film enclosed in the wrappings of noir. It's dark and steamy and cross-cut with these crazy silhouettes. It creates this sort of sinister mood that helps mirror the internal battle the lead character, Laura Jesson (Celia Johnson) faces in her slowly brewing romance with Dr. Alec Harvey (Trevor Howard). Also, the film is told in classic C-A-B format, with the final scene being shown first, and then the story unravelling along with Celia's taut narrative. It's classic noir stylings, and it helps the film move along, ably transcending the romance genre.

Also interesting in the film is the way that as soon as Celia meets Alec, she starts seeing the world entirely different. She's no longer just a happy wife and mother, she's fallen for this man and in the process her world view changes. She can't help but see her guilt and her passion reflected in the films she watches and the relationships around her. Her love for Alec is too much, it consumes her in a way, and it's awesome the way David Lean portrays it.

I'm halfway through the film, just at the moment where Alec and Celia confess their forbidden love or the first time, and I'm completely engrossed. I implore you guys, if you like old films at all, please check out Brief Encounter (76) it is well worth the hour and twenty-two minutes.

Tuesday: Brief Encounter (76)

Friday, April 10, 2009

Learning to ride a bike and an intro to BRIEF ENCOUNTER (76)

When I was little I used to be kind of a terror on a bike. I had this tiny little red-and-white checkered Peugeot that I would just bomb all over my neighborhood with. There was a particular fence and a particular bank of mailboxes that I must've crashed in to hundreds of times. For whatever reason though as I got older I stopped riding bikes, or wheeled things in general. It wasn't because I was infatuated with driving (hell I didn't get a license until three days before my college graduation"), it wasn't because I was scared of the things (that came later), it wasn't because of, hell, I don't know, bikes and I just parted ways.

Now I live in San Francisco this city swarmed with bikes and bike culture and I'm getting a bike. Ask Good Man Freytag, he'll tell you, I was impressively imposed to the whole bike thing for years and years and years. Aggressively opposed even, but something about this city and Alex's love for bike riding and the fact that waiting for the bus at 4:30 in the morning sucks like testicle punching I'm buying one. I'm going to move past my fears and my qualms and I'm going to buy a fucking bike and I'm going to ride that two-wheeled monster like it's my job. It gets my heart beating a little fast even thinking about riding with or alongside traffic, but if I didn't do all the things that made my heart beat fast, I'd be a sad little man.

I saw Brief Encounter (76) a long time ago in a depressed state when I lived by myself in Portland, OR in a tiny, empty apartment, jobless and without many friends and for some reason, even though it's sort of a British version of Revolutionary Road it cheered me up. It made me love movies and Criterion and David Lean and the inky blacks of a romance steeped in film noir traditions. It took my mind off the fact that I was consuming canned soup for every meal and that Top Ramen had started to taste like rubber.

I've yet to crack it yet for this go around, but I thought I'd give you at least a little back-up history on the film. This is a David Lean movie, he of Lawrence of Arabia and a slew of relatively big-budget Charles Dickens adaptations that I thoroughly enjoyed in the early days of my quest. He also did Bridge on the River Kwai and a whole sit ton of other interesting flicks and this little gem was the last in a series of films he put together with the famed playwright Noel Coward. This is a famous film, the type of movie that people compare to a British Casablanca and is still sighted by many as one of the great films of the day. It's also a downer of a flick, but beautifully shot, and beautifully acted, and there are still scenes in the misty shadows of the train station that pop up in my dreams.

The story follows an adulterous romance that forms in the brief encounters had at a restover stop at a train station. I won't ruin anything, but I'll say this, it doesn't end well.

If you're looking for a film to join up on the Quest, which I'm sure absolutely none of you are, this is a good one.

Monday: Brief Encounter (76)

Thursday, April 9, 2009

My life in SF so far and CHASING AMY (75)

This is my life in SF, so far:

1. I live in The Mission. A big dirty, beautiful section of the city full of restaurants and movie theatres and bookstores and everything you'd ever want from an urban environment. I'm absolutely in love with my neighborhood. It's a complete, at times shocking change from my quiet home in Seattle, but I feel much more a part of something here when I'm inhaling raw sewage and stepping over human feces.

2. I live with my girlfriend Alex in a room in a wee little house we refer to as The Peach. It's small and populated by five of us and weiner dog named Navy Bean, but again, I'm absolutely blown away by how happy I am with the entire situation. Here's my one semi-sappy thought for the week/month/year: if you really love your significant other, living together is absolutely amazing. Waking up next to the person you love on a daily basis is more invigorating than one would think. I'm enjoying the shit out every single moment of it right now, and, for the first time in my life, I highly recommend the option to those who feel ready for it.

3. I work in the Ferry Terminal Building at a place called Blue Bottle. It's high end coffee for true coffee nerds. This isn't Fuel Coffee, this is a bustling, tourist-packed locale more akin to a restaurant than a coffee shop and as of now I'm still struggling to adjust. I love making coffee and I love talking to customers, but as of now I'm barely trained and it's so busy talking to customers is a struggle. Also, tourists suck. They're badly dressed, oft times rude and barely able to muster a nickle for tip. This job has potential, and I think the more I work there the more I'll like it. We'll see.

That's me right now, in a tiny nutshell. You'll hear more, I promise.

As I stated yesterday, I love Chasing Amy (75). Or, I loved Chasing Amy (75) when I was growing up and through college, and as the final credits rolled last night, I couldn't help but think, "I really don't love this movie anymore." It's the crazy thing about film and art and literature and everything we claim to love is that so much of that love is based on where we are and where are knowledge level is when we watch it. I loved Chasing Amy (75) when I was growing in to film love because Kevin Smith was some of the first film I got my hands on. I loved the abrasiveness of his dialogue, the allusions to comic books and other geek-lore, and in general I just didn't mind the sort of broad-faced biography of this film.

Now, almost five years since I last watched this film though, things have changed. I've watched thousands of movies and written about them in various forums, and I've become more analytical, more cynical, and hell, better versed in the true masterpieces of film. Looking at Chasing Amy (75) now I can still feel inklings of love for the film, for the dialogue, for the crudeness of the humor, but there's so much that irks me that I can barely muster the energy to recommend it.

Kevin Smith made a movie that chronicled a painful part of his life, and as much as I'm a proponent for "write what you know" I think Smith went overboard this go-around. I find some of the lines in this film and some of the situations he proposes to be almost embarassingly emotional. Especially stacked against the dick-and-fart humor that races through the film, the emotion comes across as almost melodrama (the scene in the rain in the car? horf).

On top of this, I find Smith's attempt to portray gays and lesbians as almost offensive in some scenes. This film came out in a time when queer cinema was just smashing in to the fringes of the mainstream and though it seemed shocking at the time, now it seems like what it is: a straight white male writing about something he knows nothing about. At times, Alex and I both winced at the lines being spoken, I especially during a scene where four lesbians sit around a table and chat about their lives. Kevin Smith, a portly, geeky fellow from Red Banks, New Jersey, knows nothing about the way lesbians interact, this I promise you.

The final swift kick in the cajones is the fact that Smith isn't a great filmmaker. He's a cheeky, at times great writer, but he can't bring it all together. This movie looks like a school project you filmed on your mom's VHS recorder. It's shittily colored, the editing is amateur, and I even a lot of the sound editing is off. It's fascinating, for geeky old me, to see Criterion getting its footing in these first 100 films, as I think now, Kevin Smith's third movie wouldn't have crossed a single person's mind in terms of inclusion in to the collection.

Sad but true, one of my old favorites is kind of a dud. Well, onwards and upwards.

Friday: Brief Encounter (76)

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Well, I was going to write a eulogy ... and CHASING AMY (75)

I cried today over a dead cat. A fake dead cat.

My mother wrote me an email around two or three to announce that the cat I had pretty much grown up with had been sick on Monday, and then upon her return from the vet, had disappeared and my mom was certain that she had crawled away to die. I'm not much of a crier but when it comes to childhood pets and death, the waterworks come on and I'm a puddle of sad.

I spent an hour or so today cradled against Alex's chest snorfing and sniffling about a feline I believed had bitten the dust. It wasn't just the cat dying, it the pressing imposition of the passing of time, and the fear that with the death of animals comes the speedy dissolution of my childhood, and this made me cry.

Hours later, I called my mother to console her about the death of our beloved kitten, and she curtly informed me that the cat had not only returned, but was as healthy as ever. My tears, wasted. Real tears for a fake dead cat. And I can only wish that this was the first time that my mother had reported an animal on the verge of death, I cried, and then my mother informed me that her news was incorrect. I also wish that when the cat actually does die, or that my mother informs me again that she's about to pass that I won't sob against Alex's chest, but I can't, because I know I will. What can I say? I'm sensitive.

Chasing Amy (75) was the first Criterion film I ever owned. It was a movie that I loved and loved and loved when I was growing up, a film that I spent hours watching on repeat, a film that I had sandwiched in to my top ten favorite films. This was a film I truly loved.

Thus, when I decided to watch it again in pursuit of the quest, I knew that my former opinion might be shown flawed in a fairly harsh light. This is Kevin Smith's third movie, a sort of middle ground between the voraciously hated Mallrats and the indie darling that was Clerks. It was Smith's response to hatred for his last movie, and a painfully biographical tale about a relationship from his past. I've watched the first two-thirds of the film and this is what I've realized:

1. This is the most dated film I've ever seen. It was shot in the mid-90s and the soundtrack and the colors and style are abysmal. This isn't helped by the fact that ...

2. Kevin Smith has the worst visual eye I've ever seen. This film honestly looks like it was shot by a drunken ninth grader who's favorite television series was Degrassi Junior High. I counted two tracking shots in the film (TWO), more than enough shots where parts of the body were cut awkwardly cut off, one scene where you could actually see a camera man, and enough poorly composed images to make one want to think that any monkey with a camera could hit it big in Hollywood.

3. Jason Lee is the real star of this film. Ben Affleck and Joey Lauren Adams are almost painful to watch in every scene, but alone or paired, Jason Lee is hilarious. He brings a sort of casual, stoner-humor to the mix that makes me smile everytime. He knocks the stilted conversation of Adams and Affleck to the side in every scene he's featured in, and I really only found myself still enjoying this film when he was a part of it.

4. This film was a breeding ground for some of today's biggest actors. Matt Damon is in this film, Casey Affleck makes an appearance, and I'm sure I missed out on at least a few when I was plugging my ears and covering my eyes in attempt to staunch the pain of this movie.

5. I still love this movie, but it's a love fostered in nostalgia. I'll give my full thoughts on it tomorrow when it's finished.

Hopefully I'm back on track now.

Thursday: Chasing Amy (75)

Sunday, April 5, 2009

I'm here ... and I still haven't watched any movies.

Alright, alright, alright. I totally bailed on any sort of emotional farewell to my hometown. I didn't write anything about all the things I'm going to miss or the fact that I just packed up shop and moved my entire life to SF. Nope, didn't do that. I'll probably get around to it, seems somewhat important to catalog in some way these incredibly large changes in my life ... but for now, I'm not in to it.

Seemingly what I am in to is working like a dog and completely forgetting to watch movies that have anything to do with my life's goal of watching every single Criterion film ever. But wait, no seriously wait, I have a good excuse. Here let me tell you it: so, I accidentally packed Chasing Amy (75) and for the last three days I've been waiting for my mother and father to, god bless their senile minds, ship my meager belongings in the boxes I had packed. Somehow though, much to my, uh, surprise, I only received two-thirds of my belongings and sadly, the aforementioned Kevin Smith film was amongst the unsent box.

As soon as I'm done typing this though I'm running up to a video store (indeed they still exist) and trying to find the movie so I can watch at least a little bit tonight and reconnect with a favorite film of my past life, no matter how dated I believe it'll be.

For the mean time you should read this excellent piece written by Kevin Smith about the film. I promise, it's funny and sincere and very personal look at why someone makes a movie about Ben Affleck falling in love with a lesbian. ENJOY.