Friday, September 3, 2010

laid out.

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

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

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

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

Monday, August 30, 2010

watch this: CATFISH



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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, August 26, 2010

a little unfair


i saw a single man on tuesday night.  i thought it was a visually stunning film anchored by an impressive, unfolding performance by colin firth, an actor i often times overlook.  stylistically the film kills and you can see tom ford's obsessive need for all things beautiful blazed across it.  at times, especially near the end, the film falters with stiff performances and dialogue that can't ascend that, but in general it is a great film, original and challenging and one everyone should see.

and of course, everyone cannot.  the film, about gay man who months after the death of his life partner still fails to move past this love, is touching, beautiful, truly expressing in many scenes, what love is and what it must be like to no longer have that love in ones life.  there are hints, touches of sexuality, the glimpse of naked man (his genitalia artfully covered by shadow and pose) and of course the film, a scandalous occurrence in our modern times, is about a relationship between two men.

thus, the mpaa gives the film an r, limiting its release and applying a massive scarlet letter across it that reads 'this film is unfit for your children to see, possibly too disturbing even for you who might be weak of heart.'

i saw flipped this week as well.  rob reiner's new film about the budding romance between two eleven year olds set in the 1950s.  it's not a terrible film by any means, it adeptly shoots for a series of predictable plot points and with a few flourishes manages to hit them.  it is so predictable it borders on the provincial, barely attempting to push the status quo even for a moment.

and of course, everyone can see it. the film, again about a heterosexual relationship set in the 1950s was awarded a pg by the mpaa, opening its bland white-bread doors wide open for the entire world to feast their eyes upon.

i saw centurion this week as well (it's been a big week for films), the new film by genre-film master neill marshall.  the film follows a group of roman soldiers on the run behind enemy lines from a hunting party of dangerous pagans.  it is beyond gory.  there beheadings and impalings and throat-cuttings and spearings and all other forms of horrible blood-letting through out.  there is just as much skin of the man shown in this film as in a single man but all of this is buffered by some of the most entertaining bloodshed i've seen in a while.  it's a great gory picture, entirely unsuited for most children.

and of course, not everyone can see it.  the mpaa gave the film, quite accurately i believe, a hard-r for violence and thematics and child-murder.

a single man a touching, beautiful story about the grief of losing the love of your life gets an r.  flipped a low-key, period piece about meeting the love of your life gets a pg.  centurion a brutally violent tale of war and revenge gets an r.

seems a tad unfair if you ask me.  for the film and for those who won't have the opportunity to watch the film because it challenges conventional norms.

just saying.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

happy 90th ray harryhausen!


who might you ask is ray harryhausen? just the most innovative stop-motion animator of all time.  the man who single-handedly helped to plant the love of the fantastical deep in to my mind.  the man behind jason and the argonauts' skeletal rampage, the man behind the one eyed-centaur battling a griffin to a punch-frenzy death, the man who made it possible to bring fantasy to life on the silver screen.

this god of the film world jumped the fence in to the pastures of nonagenerianism this past weekend and hopefully you, and your friends and family, got a chance to dive in to the smattering of retrospectives of his work that popped up across the country. i for one eschewed the societal trappings of friendship for five hours and, in the lovely castro theater, feasted on jason and the argonauts and the surprisingly entertaining golden voyage of sinbad.  i can't say that the directors the bookended the work of harryhausen's clay-genius always brought the most amazing films to bear, but i can certainly say that even fifteen, twenty years after seeing it, the arrival of titan talos in jason and the argonauts still had my glossy-eyed and slack-jawed.

harryhausen, may you live another 90.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

what's in the theaters this weekend?


i used to write a column for another website that basically gave me the opportunity to predict which films i thought were going to smash at the box office and which films i thought were going to spew radioactive waste on time the lifeless forms of the viewers. i always thought it entertaining, but started to feel awkward because i wasn't actually seeing any of these films, i was just sort of guessing if they were going to be good or bad.  i wasn't offering the audience any sort true fact, just a series of educated guesses on what i thought might be the best film for them to actually spend their hard earned money on.

after being subjected to the wide world of reviewing, to seeing nearly every shitty film that exists on the planet that has plopped on to the silver screen, i've decided that, whether or not i've seen everything, i'm going to return to this educated guess system of critiquing.  hell, i'm seeing a lot of films that i usually wouldn't, and i'm buffering those with even more films, thus i think i can spend at least a small portion of time each week making sure you, my sensitive readers, don't mire yourself in some shit storm of a film because the advertising tricks you in to thinking it is an intelligent bit of comedy.  or on the other side of the spectrum, perhaps lead you towards a film that looks terrible, but is actually a glowing diamond in the rough.

the films

nanny mcphee returns, d. susanna white
cast: emma thompson, maggie gyllenhaal, ralph fiennes

what is it?: the sequel to the first film about nanny mcphee, a beloved though hideously warted english nanny whom takes a trio of children on a magical ride ... or something

prediction: you know, from the cast present, you'd think this film would be some sort of stuffy british period piece involving a comedy of manners and perhaps a few big, flowery hats.  ralph fiennes and maggie gyllenhaal joining a cast that already features emma thompson?  i mean on a certain count it just smells like a bunch of actors watching the ink dry on a couple of six or seven digit paychecks, but maybe, just maybe this is one of this under-the-radar children's flicks that actually has some merit, and when you're forced by your bawling four and five year olds to pay three hundred dollars to attend this flick, you won't actually have the unstoppable urge to end the lives of your entire family.

or it could just be another shit-show sequel aimed to cut holes in your money tree and change your whining blobs in to even more testaments the youtube generation.  

will i see it?:  was offered, and kindly rejected. 

--

piranha 3d, d. alexandre aja
cast: elisabeth shue, jerry o'connell, ving rhames, richard dreyfuss

what is it?: a film about mutant radioactive piranha's ... in 3d

prediction:  i worry about this film, not because of its premise, but more so because of the studios decision not to screen it for critics.  usually when a film has this dump of a concept, the studios throw it out to the critics hoping they'll either lambast it so badly it'll draw people's attention like a freeway accident or that it'll actually be entertaining enough that they'll give it a "gee shucks, pretty good" review.  with out a screening though, it might just be bland horror crap.  though alexandre aja's the hills have eyes and haute tension are both absolute gore-fests that worked on almost every level.  though the ending of haute tension is a total bust.  

will i see it?:  my weekend is pretty open, and i know one particular roomie who might just be game for a beach-centric gore-splosion rife with cheesy dialogue and the slim possibility of nudity.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010


i've been accused, for as long as i can remember as being someone who 'falls asleep during every movie.' 

this is quite true.  

david thomson, san francisco resident and hugely prolific film critic seemingly faces a similarly ironic dilemma.  his thoughts on the matter:

'it is the just reward for insomnia that i sleep most easily at the movies. why not? i always suspected they were dreams.'

from the brilliant compilation of tiny film reviews entitled have you seen ... a monster of a tome that i'm still working through.

watch: japanese department store ad from the 1970s


faye dunaway, hard-edged femme fatale of bonnie and clyde.

faye dunaway, lover of eggs and pitch black rooms.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

finally.


i've been waiting for this for too long.  i feared perhaps because the film was the a lesser work in the amazing oeuvre of wes anderson that perhaps the huge fans at the criterion collection would spite this cheeky tail of brothers gone to india.  wes anderson and the criterion collection have always had a brilliant relationship, the good folk behind the collection always seeming to translate anderson's coy visual style in to brilliant little bits of packaging and extra features.  there's no better way to watch a wes anderson film (aside from sprawled big across the silver screen) then through a perfect transfer by these film fanatics.

i'm just glad my fears were unrealized.

this, again, is the beautiful new art for the upcoming release of the darjeeling limited (540). i will hover strangely near the door of the local DVD store awaiting its release.

---

criterion counsel: might be time for another break from this.  life is busy right now and kurosawa is barely a glimmer in my eye. 

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

what i'm watching tonight: scott pilgrim, d. edgar wright


i'm not the bryan o'malley super-geek that's buffeting the internet in absolute panicky, cold-sweaty excitement you see so many of trolling the internet right now.  what i am though is a huge fan of the film ethic and prior work of director edgar wright (shaun of the dead and hot fuzz), a man who deftly weaves his immense knowledge of film in to films that openly acknowledge that, well, knowledge while craftily weaving their own impressively original stories.  in the past wright, and co-conspirator nick frost, have chopped their own ideas from the ether, and i'm more than curious to see what edgar wright and company are going to do with the sort of bizarre, manga-influenced love/fight story of scott pilgrim and his lovelorn battle for the beautiful ramona.

from everything i'm hearing and everything i'm seeing (and let me tell you, i've watched the various trailers more than enough times in the last few hours) this movie looks to be melding comic books and film in a way barely done before.  yes, ang lee and his much-maligned hulk adaptation tried to blur the line, but lee fell on the side of artsy, not nerdy, and the brace-faced crowd turned quickly and angrily against him.

edgar wright is one of that crowd, and it seems he's bringing his full onslaught or nerd-knowledge to the plate.  this, after inception, is my most anticipated of the summer season, so here's sitting with fingers crossed.

---

criterion counsel: nothing.  take that judgement from your face.

Monday, August 9, 2010

what i'm watching tonight: The Expendables d. Sylvester Stallone


for some reason, i'm still mulling it over in my head, i signed up for the screening of the 80s action-hero testosterone festival of lights that is sylvester stallone's the expendables.  i don't know if you've been outside of your home or flipped on a boob-tube in the last three months, but if so you've certainly seen the line of formerly famous stars that make up the poster for this blood-n-guts shoot-out.  

honestly, i think, especially if stallone continues his unlikely streak of enjoyable action flicks, this could be a fun movie.  it could exploit the star powers that these washed-up duds once emitted and could abort the idea of a logical story in favor of explosions and bloodshed and be so ridiculously dumb that it, on some basic level, works. or, and i worry deeply this might be the case, it could try to take itself too seriously or too farcically and just be an absolute bit of trash.  the kind of low-rent action thriller i used to stay up past my bedtime just so i could watch the sex scenes through the grainy static of my downstairs television.

why am i going though?  i don't know, some sort of distant nostalgic thread connected to my love of bruce willis and the actioneers of my past perhaps.  or maybe just the need to dive back in to the theatrical film experience after three weeks of literature and road-trip.  

i have no clue.  this could be ugly.

---

criterion counsel: sigh, don't even know where i put that film ...

Friday, August 6, 2010

watch this: terry zwigoff's CRUMB (533) trailer




terry zwigoff is a stocky, bald-headed son of a bitch who once locked himself in to his trailer during a shoot with a gun threatening to kill himself. i saw him speak once and though he seemed tart, the percolating anger just didn't seem to be present. this film, his greatest if you ask me, is acerbic and odd in the way only zwigoff can nail, but the majority of this caustic behavior stems from its subject, the erstwhile famous fellow 60s comic icon robert crumb. if a film produced by david lynch and filmed by zwigoff doesn't tempt you enough, just know there's a character in the film (another crumb brother who incidentally i'm privy to his sf whereabouts) who swallows a string and allows it to cleanse his digestion bits for nearly 12 days.

brilliant pic, just released from my savior the criterion collection.

---

criterion counsel: just got back, but a big screen is floating in my future, so chances are looking good for mr. kurosawa's film.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

a return and thoughts


i'm back from a road trip of epic proportions with the criterion conquistador by my side and the whole of upper-northern america streaming past us.  there was a yellow lab, a few cramped nights in tents, the broad foreheads of america's presidents sprawled out before us, a laser show with booming quotations splayed across the sprouting features of crazy horse, there were steaming geysers, battles with rapids, a whole lot of hot dogs and so much more i'm unable to jot it all down.

i do, on the occasion of returning from such a cross-continental journey, a few thoughts:

1.  the midwest is sort of like the perpetual eighth grader of the united states. the coasts are a cooler older sibling that keeps there eye on the newest fashions, the sizzling new musical acts, the changes in hairdos.  the south is an estranged cousin living on the edge of the compound who people think about fondly sometimes but still wonder why that sum'bitch shot a beebee in to the neighbor's cat.  texas is like a crotchety grandfather who smokes a corn cob pipe and is damned sure that what they're doing is right on the nose, but hasn't looked around in twenty-five years.  the midwest though is certainly the awkward pre-adolescent, sometimes churning with pubescent energy, sometimes still yearning to fall back in to their parents arms, most often friendly to a fault, unperturbed by the need to stand out.  i say this in the most positive of ways as i found the people and the culture of the midwest (though flat in inflection and lacking in the love of spice) to be wonderful and welcoming, but there's a certain feeling that the midwest is still, and always will be, waiting for the hairs on their chest and pits to sprout.

2.  for nine dollars on the cc and i's final day we purchased these things: two hot dogs (chicago style with tomatoes and celery salt and relish and onions and spicy peppers and pickles), a small coke (in the midwest this is a bladder-filling beverage) and a 'pizza puff' (a deep-fried pizza pocket, more delicious than you might think).  for nine dollars.  less than a ten dollar bill.  in san francisco for nine dollars you would get a napkin, a sardonic smile and perhaps the sneaky opportunity to steal a couple packets of ketchup.  we stayed on the couch of strangers who's sprawling apartment was enough to fit eleven bikes, the dank odor of rotting wood, and a two of my sf apartments, and i nearly lost myself when they said their rent was just under six hundred dollars.  my rent is just under six hundred dollars and that's for a spacious room i share with a very lovely conquistador.   to say the least, the midwest, gawky as it might be, is a cheap, delicious place.

3.  after driving for nine days, near eight hours each cycle of the sun, and then to my deep consternation sitting through two, sigh, two flights over the course of two days, i'm here to say that driving is the way to see this world.  flying, at least in our recession sucker-punched economy is no longer the luxury adventure it once was.  oh yeah sure, say goodbye to blankets (they cost eight dollars now), food (also unreasonably priced), and anything else once considered a good natured compensation, that's been spoken about.  but toss in a bevy of unfriendly flight attendants who will bark angrily at you when you attempt to use the bathroom while it's being 'serviced', screaming children, a selection of movies better suited to a colony of ingrates, uncomfortable seats, and a general sense of panicky malaise and i would prefer to be squished underneath a greyhound bus for sixteen hours than to step foot on an aircraft.

4.  america is amazing.  i saw a hotel called americinn.  i shot a six shot revolver.  i heard a chinless man talk about taking a bullet for his gun shop.  i saw big hair and the badlands, big people and the big horn national forest.  we slept on the couches of people we'd never even heard of.  my painted toenails were ridiculed, i swam in rivers and lakes and quarries and swimming holes.  i ate at the oldest bar in madison.   i ate bison and venison and chorizo stuffed figs and pork shoulder swimming in its own broth.  i drove across the flat, empty expanse of south dakota and let my mind wander.  i stopped and i started and suddenly realized why the great road trip has become such a rite of inspiration for the writing world.  i don't know what you do, but whatever it is, you should stop it for a moment and find away to travel across the country, stopping as you may, a destination just creeping up on the horizon.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

hot dang, america!


wooooooo-weeeee, taller than a car that steam spouting sum'bitch is.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

billings!


children in montana love sitting on stoops and staring out across the dusty plain, their earth-caked futures percolating in the distance.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Monday, July 19, 2010

across this wild place


see that tiny town that enormous giant of a person is pinching?  that's chicago.  one time crux of the midwest.  former meat-packing capitol of the world.  home to the cubs, the white soxs, the bears, the bulls and the blackhawks.

well guess what lingering readers?  the criterion conquistador and i are hitting the road in, well, just about four and half hours on a massive road trip across this oft times great country of ours.  through bois and billings and the dakotas and minnesota and wisconsin, we're cutting across this wild place we call america to see what it has to offer, with chicago as our end goal.

the postings are going to be sparse around here and if not sparse, particularly short and sweet.

wish us luck in our travels, we'll certainly do the same for you.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

mmmmm ... samurai


toshiro mifune is such a glowing statue of japanese masculinity.

he makes my loins quiver and my hair stand on end.

---

criterion counsel: it's been a busy coupla days.  sadly none of that business has been aimed at the criterion collection.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

go, run, see inception


i was lucky, privileged, blessed to see christopher nolan's new film inception on monday night and i can't (both legally and scholarly) gush more about the film.  people will call this the new matrix (i heard them as i left the theater, already dropping the wachowski's sci-fi classic) and if you're thinking mind-bending science-fiction that pushes far past what has come before, then yes, this is the new matrix.  but inception is so so so much more.  this is the matrix on massive steroids, but undercut with an emotional core.  this is a trick on reality (on realities actually) that never lets up.  from moment one you're thrust in to the world of a group of thieves that operate on an entirely different level than anyone who's come before, and you hold on with all your might to their adventure(s).

i want to write nothing more about the plot or the characters or the resolution of this film, because i came in blank, only the oddball images of the teaser posters emblazoned on my brain, and it allowed for everything to be a surprise, everything to be a revelation.  

just know this, the forty minute heist at the end of the film rivals any and all that've come before it.  perhaps the greatest execution of a complicated bit of filmmaking i've ever seen.  acting, writing, cinematography, action choreography - it doesn't get better than this.

mr. nolan, i tip my hat to you.

---

criterion counsel: did some real damage on the kurosawa piece the other night.  but life has imposed itself once again.  we'll see if i can get to it before i leave for chicago next week.


Friday, July 9, 2010

watch this: the hidden fortress (116) sneak preview


getting back to the classic masters these days.  yesterday dassin, today kurosawa, tomorrow bunuel - it's a stroll through a museum of the greats.

this film supposedly influenced the star wars films, though it's hard for me to see that amongst the screaming samurai women and flame dancing tribal men.




Thursday, July 8, 2010

RIFIFI (115)


the film: rififi (115)
the director: jules dassin (the naked city (380), brute force (383), etc.)

what is it: only my favorite film amongst the sizable number of criterion collection films i've perused.  gritty, grim, depressing 'till the end - almost the perfect crime film.

a lil' bit of history: the film's centerpiece, an immaculate 30-minute heist sequence that features no words, no music, no imposed sound, has actually been recreated by real life criminals.  the types with guns and rap sheets.

the expectation: i've seen it before and couldn't wait to dive back in to the glowing perfection of this seamless film.

the experience: sequestered in a beautiful home with a whopping sound system and an enormous television, the experience, though broken apart by much needed sleep, was near perfect.


1. the way crime should be portrayed

rififi (115) is a beautiful film.  a beautiful film about characters that as a viewer you feel drawn too, entranced by, even rooting for by film's end.  but in the long run rififi (115) isn't a film about glorifying the world of crime.  instead it's a dark peek in to the brutal rules that govern the world.  yes, you will be amazed by how artfully put together the heist in the film is, but the aftermath quickly disperses the hollywood sheen.  these characters live and die by a code, a series of life-long traditions that govern their professional existence, and the lines of friends and family and co-workers mean nothing when they come in to question.  the final twenty-five minutes of this film are brutally heart-wrenching, the kind of bait-and-switch that boosts you up only so it hurts more when it knocks you over.  crime, on a basic level, can be a terrible terrible thing and rififi (115) in all its black and white glory, deftly portrays this.

2. the heist

read anything about rififi (115) and you'll read about the heist sequence in the film.  near thirty minutes long, the heist sequence is told without sound of any kind (aside from the normal scuffle of your average heist). as a reviewer, who on a weekly basis is force-fed enormous, big budget bits of hyper-kinetic action rife with ear-grating explosions and mind-manipulating music, rififi's (115) silent crime finale is refreshing.  instead of being "wowed" by the giant special effects and cheesy one-liners you're locked in to the characters and the very simple, yet difficult act of breaking in to a well-secured diamond merchant's vault-like storefront.  the character's tenseness, the sweat that drips from their faces, the pin-drop atmosphere isn't obscured by booming timpanis or synthy reverb.  instead it sits in the foreground and each tick of the cinematic clock seems to crush the air out of your chest a little bit more.

3.  the after-heist

modern movies, at least those birthed from the loins of hollywood, have a need to wrap everything up in a fiery finale.  to tie the loose ends that the film has unearthed in a blaze of action.  bad guys die, good guys live, lovers love - it's just the manner of film we've become accustomed to.  yet, rififi (115) doesn't even attempt to pull together the loose ends in a action-packed ending.  instead the heist finishes with 
thirty minutes left in the film, and the unresolved bits then start a-flowing.  all of sudden the magic of the heist has fallen to the wayside and the dark underbelly that rests below the surface quickly takes center stage.  bullets are fired, friendships are tested, loyalties are broken, and the world of crime suddenly doesn't seem so magical.  instead it seems exactly what it is: dangerous, seedy, and all about the love of money.

4. tony the stephanois


there's something about the portrayal of tony the stephanois by jean servais, the star of les miserables and  le plaisir (444).  this is a gangster we've seen before, but not at this stage in his life.  this is a crook fresh out the slammer but without the fresh gleam hollywood usually presents them with.  this is a broken man, one who once supped on caviar at fancy restaurants and wooed beautiful women in lavish apartments dripping with antiquity.  this is a broken man who now sweats when he walks, smokes cigarettes to ease the pain, and finds solace in the peaceful suburbanity of another man's family.  he is violent and angry and ready to no longer be a part of this world.  servais plays him like a character who has seen too much, a man who has lived by the rules for too long and now has emerged from a stint in the pen without the knowledge of how the rules have evolved.  he's an old-timer in a newbies world, and the violence that marks the end of the film, seems to adequately fit the stephanois' grim life view.  he performed a crime, and because he didn't see it from every angle, he has to kill or be killed to survive.  his is a deep, dark, depressing world, and even the rekindled love of a woman can't bring him back from the edge.

final thoughts:


don't even need 'em.  watch this film.  many times over.

---

criterion counsel: on a rampage right now.  who knows how many films i can devour before i leave!

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

200 bonsai


i want nothing more than to be finishing this movie this morning, the lovely criterion conquistador locked in to the crook in my arm.  but alas, i have 200 bonsai to water and a film about human-hunting to digest.

and i have forty-five minutes to do so.

thus, give me the time today to finish the film and expect a glut of praise tomorrow.

hope your america-loving weekend was long and stained with bbq.

Friday, July 2, 2010

tony le stephanois est exact au rendez-vous ...



i can't explain anymore just how brilliant this film is.

does this poster further it's brilliance?

does the jagged red lines and language of love make my mouth-slobber a little more mutual?

and you call yourself a film lover ...

Thursday, July 1, 2010

why so hazy?

i saw the last airbender a few days ago. it was, disappointingly, awful. poor story, teenage editing, awful acting, and maybe some of the poorest script choices ever conceived.

and sadly (strangely? inevitably?) the terribleness of the actual film wasn't even what irked me the most.  oh no, i'm so used to shit dripping on to my lap near every time i venture in to a movie theater, the fact that i was watching yet another set-up for yet another trilogy of soulless big budgetry, barely phased me.  i simply stared at the screen, allowing the mind-numbing imagery to batter out another few brain cells.

what torqued my movie-loving soul the most was the fact that the film, like so many already this summer and so many more to come, was in (cue booming drums and flashy visuals) 3-D!  i've vocalized my distaste for the cheap gimmick that is 3-D! before, and even sliding the glasses on to my face prepares me for yet another brown backed slide down shit mountain.  before the last airbender though i accredited my dislike for 3-D! to the fact that it usually signaled a film that spun on the lazy axis of visual effects.  with so much money thrown towards the ability to see leaves flutter in to your face, i can never imagine that a whole lot is left for a little thing called story.  sure toy story 3 blasted me from the bay inland, but i consider it a fluke of the new found medium.  3-D! is a death rattle from a bloated tech-whale, and every time i force those hipster-glasses-gone-wrong over my eyes, i shudder a bit, knowing exactly what comes next.


and still, this aspect of 3-D! wasn't what kicked me the most times in the uvula.  during the film, in a boorish bit of dialogued exposition, i decided that in no way whatsoever could my 3-D! glasses be helping or hampering my viewing experience. thus, rebel that i am, i pulled the glasses off of my face and to see what would a 3-D! film in un-3-D! would look like.

as it turns out 3-D! films in un-3-D! look much like the films we we're happily watching for years and years before some pea-brained ass in a leather chair on sunset boulevard decided that 3-D! was the wave of the future.    well, they look similar, except for the colors portrayed on screen are actually those colors.  one fails to realize that the trick behind, ahem, 3-D! glasses is polarization, a way of pushing the brain and eye to disconnect slightly, drawing the image on screen seemingly closer to the face.  to achieve polarization one must tint the glasses slightly, making it so we're viewing our films, our beloved films, through cheap-o sunglasses.  yes, the laser beams shot from the laser beam gun are seemingly "wizzing" past our head, but also every bit of beautiful color we could be laying our eyes on is, relegated to somewhere between it's original color and a muted, charcoal-like gray. we are not feasting on an array of delicious colors, but instead chewing the ash of a film put to the fire.  it is the sad, unheralded truth, that 3-D! is not only robbing our films of the need for story, but also robbing us of the true visual nature of what we might be seeing.

what i want from the studios isn't the dismissal of 3-D! as a viable filmic option as there are those small-brained individuals in the world who would like to watch jennifer lopez getting a pap smear in enormous, monstrous 3-D!.  what i would enjoy rather is the opportunity to never, ever, have to view a 3-D! film again.  that i could see films that sucked as hard as the last airbender (and oh how hoover-ish this beast of a film was) in all of the visual glory they were meant to be presented in.  i don't want to be an extra four to five dollars to have my optic rainbow painted over with opaque paint.

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criterion counsel: film rented. film unwatched.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

watch this: RIFIFI (115) trailer

lord knows how long it might be until i get to dip in to this film, but the trailer, all cigarette smoke and seedy mood makes my feet tingle.




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criterion counsel: er, well, no.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

MY MAN GODFREY (114)


the director: gregory la cava

what is it: perhaps the depression era comedy.  a fast-talking bit of lunacy that ably dissects the befuddled brains of the fabulously wealthy.

a lil' bit of history: william powell, the stunning actor who portrays "godfrey" in the film, was no spring chicken (forty-five and getting older), thus when powell carries irene (carole lombard) up the stairs and in to her bedroom, a stunt double had to be used.

the expectation: i spoke on this yesterday, but the possibility of a 1930s comedy used to turn my snooze-factor up to high.  my man godfrey (114) had my tongue lolling from moment one.  i'm growin' up mama.

the experience: i've been so impressively busy over the course of the last four months, that movies, especially criterion ones are gems to be shoved in to the cracks of my schedule.  thus, sadly, annoyingly, my man godfrey (114) was watched in fragments before sleep, upon waking, on off-afternoons.  


1. not your staid 1930s pic

there's a feeling amongst the public these days that if something's old, especially if an item of historical remembrance harkens back to the early parts of the century, that it might be, ahem, boring.  i, occasionally dunder-headed, have in the past subscribed to these theory as well.  but let me tell you, as soon as godfrey (william powell) pushes the sharp-faced cornelia (gail patrick) in to the ash pile and confirms that yes he'll be a part of the bullock family's lunatic experience, this film is as entertaining as anything in theaters right now.  this isn't just run-of-the-mill comedy either, there is a sense of silliness and surrealism that tints the edges of the film.  the shit show that is the rich person scavenger hunt at the beginning had my eyes wide, my mouth agape.  the cast of characters the inhabit the bullock's household aren't just your tired, stuffy rich folk, oh no, these are beautifully crafted bits of insanity that make you giggle and cringe at the same time.  yes, yes, the film doesn't feature sweaty megan fox fighting a robot vacuum cleaner or jennifer lopez getting impregnated by a machine. instead it features silliness and stunning acting and a sure-footed cameraman.  and in the end, it's all you really need.

2.  william powell

i've feel as if i've shorted myself in life by not knowing more about william powell before this film.  his is a name that any good cinephile knows and, truthfully or not, reveres. in my case, he's a series of blocky letters on the blindingly lit marquee of my mind.  a name with no face as so many of the brilliant contracted actors of the studio era have become.  thus, when this film opens and a dirty faced powell lambasts one half of the bullock family as articulately as any one on screen possibly ever has, i nearly lost it.  powell is the sort of well-polished screen gem hollywood of the 1930s adored.  a mannered actor with a sharp, speedy, delivery and the sort of upper class good looks a country in the midst of the great depression strove for.  his godfrey is a sharp-tongued charmer done with the world of wealth and women, a hard-working mystery setting out in the world to learn a few life lessons.  i can imagine that william powell, star of the the thin man films (all fourteen of them), was much like godfrey in real life, a sort of well-spoken cynic, who didn't take shit from anyone, regardless of their class or stature. 

i've got powell on the brain, i feel a bio coming on.

3.  eugene pallette

dig in to enough depression era comedies and you're going to stumble upon the enigma that is eugene pallete (the actor who portrays alexander bullock in the film).  pallette's a short, stocky actor who speaks like a frog with lung cancer.  he's the perfect epitome of studio-era hollywood's love of a sideman, a character actor, an off-beat yahoo who adds just a spin of wackiness to a film.  even though palllete's bullock is a sort of straight man in the film, the hard-wrought center of the absolutely bonkers bullock clan, his voice, his stature, his sort of pug-nosed masculinity, puts him decidedly off to the side.  if william powell's godfrey is the character an unemployed joe on the street in the 1930s aspired to be, eugene pallette was the everyman (regardless of his onscreen characters wealth) they thought themselves to be.  

final thoughts:

one of the great comedies i've ever seen.  i wish i had more time and more space to fill your brains with the oddball lunacy and structural hilarity this film brings but i can't and i won't.  all i can say is that godfrey and clan is the sort of film our country used to hang its hat on.  a solid, dependable laugh riot that featured strong acting and even stronger writing.  a film that didn't challenge our sensibilities perhaps but entertained with out dropping its standard to anything offensively lowball.  william powell is a discovery i'll dig much deeper in to in the next few months, the sort of treasure found that makes me wish i could stop time and just dig in to his entire oeuvre.  

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criterion counsel: ah c'mon, gimme a break! 

Thursday, June 24, 2010

what's in store #10

it's been a while since i've actually seen enough films to knock out another what's in store.  so long that i forgot to actually discuss the next five films in the collection when i polished off the last round.  that said, with my man godfrey (114) now a delightful afterthought, it seemed a reward even to announce to you folk what you can be looking forward to, if you're following along (which i'll be honest, seems a stretch).

it's strong five coming out of the gate, and i can't wait to polish up the silverware and get to eating.


#114. my man godfrey, d. gregory la cava

my man godfrey (114) is the type of film that gets bandied around in classic film circles as a favorite, a classic, a must-see. and as is typical of the lax cinephile that i am, i haven't seen it. scoff, please, guffaw even, but no my man godfrey (114) has alluded me for a long while now. but the cinematic pairing of william powell and carole lombard is enough to wet my pits.  funny isn't it, years ago a black and white comedy from the 1930s would've been just enough to knock me unconscious, these days though, i'm percolating with excitement over it.

#115. rififi, d. jules dassan 

of all the films i've seen in the criterion collection (roughly 120) jules dassan's classic caper flick rififi (115) is my favorite. ever aspect of this film, the accumulation of "the talent", the banter, the twist, and especially the completely silent twenty-one minute heist are perfect.  perfect in the way where blood bubbles up to my face throughout the film and i feel a bit like i'm having a cinematic heart-attack.  that kind of perfect.

#116. the hidden fortress, d. akira kurosawa 

there was a spell, long ago, where not only was i obsessed with the beauty of the films in the criterion collection, but with actually owning the entirety of this expansive catalog.  no birthday or christmas or easter list existed that didn't have a request for a list of criterion films somewhere on it.  ebay was hunted for cheapies, video stores were perused for discount films - i was, and am, obsessed with the beautiful packaging this stunning collection released to the world.  the hidden fortress (116) was one of these films that, sadly, was purchased and never viewed.  stashed away underneath my bed (and concurrently my bed in san francisco) awaiting the day when i had a moment to watch it.  the film? another beautiful take on the samurai genre by criterion favorite akira kurosawa.  seemingly, much of star wars was based upon it.

#117. diary of a chambermaid, d. luis bunuel

keep the big names a'coming.  luis bunuel has to be the second most represented director in the collection and for good reason.  the spanish surrealist deftly, and wildly, dissected the philandering ways of the bourgeoisie and this, another beloved entry in his oeuvre, finds a chambermaid lost amongst the sexy scandals of a rich family.  i expect it be strange, slightly uncomfortable, and entirely enjoyable.

#118.  sullivan's travels, d. preston sturges

shit, there's too much to say about this film.  preston sturges is a comic genius unlike any other. a true master of the classic genre of screwball comedies and this, a sort of 30s take on the odyssey is a renowned classic. the film inspired the coen brother's o brother where art thou? and is considered one of the all-time greats.  and ... i haven't seen it.  i had it in my possession in college for years and years and somehow the damned thing just alluded my view.  shortly, hopefully, this will be fixed.

here's where i want someone to invent a time-stopper that allows me the ability to stop time, uh huh, and just sit and watch films until the cows come home.  i'd watch all of these in a day. one glorious time-stopped day.

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criterion counsel: my man godfrey (114), i am victorious.  no no please, keep the clapping to a minimum, i get so easily embarrassed.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

a suggestion: see I AM LOVE


my mother, saint that she is, told me via phone the other night that her and my father, mustachioed stallion that he is, would no longer see films in the theater for any more than the price of their local second-run theater.  unless said film was unanimously agreed upon by critics and peers alike to be a truly fantastic film.  thus, big budget blockbusters would not be in my parent's future.  films like robin hood and prince of persia and all the other shit clogging our screens this summer would be vacant from my parental units evening plans.

strangely, this idea, so distant from someone who gets to see free films, stuck in my mind.  i sit in the darkness of the theater at each screening trying to figure out if this film would fit the bill for my parents to fork up the requisite ten-fifty (plus popcorn and soda, a sanders' family tradition) to see the film.  

i am love, the new film starring (and produced by) tilda swinton is a film i believe my parents, and your parents, and the whole world should see.  set amongst unimaginable wealth in milan and london and san remo, the film follows the slow dissolution of a family.  a family built on secrets and lies and mistrust.  it is, and this is saying much, as beautiful a film as any i've seen in recent years - part italian neo-realism, part subtly photographed painting, part scenic tour of the amazing imagery that makes up these ancient cities.  the criterion conquistador and myself, sat in mute shock, staring at the credits as they limped across the screen.  completely taken by this powerhouse of a film.

mom, dad, completely worth your ten-fifty.  i promise.

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criterion counsel: it returns.  what with the swarms of fellow criterion questers flitting about, i need to get hustling.  first to the top gets a bacon-wrapped hot dog! still stuck on my man godfrey (114).  but not for long.

Monday, June 21, 2010

criterion copier.



when i started criterion quest almost three years ago, i assumed that like the bolt of lightning that struck me whilst sitting in the back seat of light in the attic records founder matt sullivan's beat-up car, that the idea was, sigh, and original one.  i, wrongly, believed that the idea of climbing to insurmountable peak that is the criterion collection was one that though possibly thought of before, had never been attempted.


today though, i received a lovely comment from a reader named "criterionaffection".  comments in general are rare on the old criterion quest, thus, i've come to acknowledge and recognize the various members of the peanuts gallery who on a bi-weekly basis lambast me in some way.  thus, the sheer idea that someone whom i'd never spoken to at great lengths was reading my blog and had been inspired, for good or for bad, to comment on it.


that in mind, i followed the comments url thread back to a website called criterion affection, a blog, that for better words, is doing exactly what i'm doing.  sure, yes, they, whomever they might be are diving in to the criterion collection in alphabetical order, opposed to my numerical order, but still, criterion affection is attacking the criterion collection, film by film, just like me.


baffled, bewildered, even saddened by the sheer fact that my dim hope that what i was doing was original in any way, i peered, through salty tears at the sidebar, realizing that a slew of other criterion related websites loomed at the edges.  i quickly, curtly even, clicked through the other criterion-ed monikers, finding, to my dismay, that a slew of other folk were attempting a similar feat.


criterion confessions.  criterion contraption (endorsed by none other than one of my cinematic heroes, roger ebert).  the list went on and on.


stunned, wide-mouthed even, i jotted down a few reactions which i would like to share with you:


1.  happiness.  it's nice to know that other folk are also as obsessed with this amazing cinematic collection.  it's nice to know that other people have spent countless hours of their lives watching a handful of esoteric foreign films that only another small handful of people have seen, let alone enjoyed and would be willing to talk about.  hearing that there's one, two, maybe countless other websites dedicated to this, perks me up a bit, gives me hope when the lights are dim and a pile of carl th. dreyer films loom in the distance.


2.  relief.  matthew dessem, the wildly recognized author of criterion contraption, he who lord ebert lauded with praise, has only watched 98 of the films in the criterion collection. yes his reviews are insightful and foot-noted and filled to the brim with interesting observations steeped in a worldly knowledge of cinema, but nonetheless, he's been doing it for four years and he's barely cracked the three digit mark.  i, on the other hand, have been watching criterion films for an equal period of time and am already in the mid-teens.  turns out obsessing your way through a five hundred film collection is tough work for me, and for everyone.


"if I live to be 80, I'll end up writing about 902 of criterion's 2,350 titles. i think i'd be happy with that." - matthew dessem


agreed.


i don't need to blindly march through these films, the finish line always in sight.  i need to live life and watch the films when i can and enjoy and interpret them as i see fit.  that's what watching films, criterion aside, is all about, and i'll happily step outside the stress ring and just let the films fall as they may.


3.  shock and dismay, awe even.  i am truly embarassed and stupified that for even an instance i thought that this idea was somehow original.  i think alex was shocked at how shocked i was.  she asked questions like, "did you search the internet for other criterion-related websites?" no. "are you doing okay?" yes, just a little red-in-the-face. "do you need me to hold the hankie while you blow your nose?" no, no thank you, i can do it myself. 


4.  full of scheme.  what's great about finding a group of like-minded people is that a group can always do more than a single person.  i'm already planning, scheming about how to break the barriers of solitude we criterion nerds have imposed upon ourselves and try to make something else out of this. what? i have no fucking clue.


in the end, i feel inspired.  thank goodness i'm not the only one out there slogging through some of these films.  i've found a support group for my obsession and though it knocked me for a loop, i'm already feeling better.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

childhood.

i was 13 when toy story came out, a five foot one punk who'd just barely escaped junior high with all limbs intact.

i was 17 when toy story 2 came out, bogged down in the social nitpicking of a high school, still coming home and raiding the cookie jar and watching reruns of saved by the bell.

i am 28 and saw toy story 3 two nights ago, a completely different individual than the human being who started the journey of woody and buzz and mr. and mrs. potato head and the whole motley crew.  the original toy story film dropped in to theaters almost fifteen years ago, and long after the credits rolled on tuesday night, a sentimental bead rested upon my forehead, the tears just below the surface, my stomach in knots over bidding adieu to these characters i've shared a good portion of my life with.

it was a strange feeling, a new feeling lets say, and one i'm sad to say will probably grow more frequent with age.  as i said above, i'm 28 now, and as i, we lets say, get older, saying goodbye to things, to people, to friends, to portions of our life in general, will become more and more frequent.  we will move to new locations, new jobs, new fields.  we will fight, and fall out, and on occasion make up.  we will make terrible decisions and only know so when we have the luxury of hindsight.  but i think what touched me the most about toy story 3 is the fact that, as we grow older, we will lose more and more.  the nostalgic bits of our lives that make up this thing we call the past, will become more and more the individual strings of the tapestry of our memories.  films, even great ones like the toy story trilogy, will fade in to better-lit locales, glowing with the gentle light of nostalgia.  we will talk about them and about the people we used to know and love in the past tense, wondering where they are now or what they've done with themselves.

during the credits, criterion conquistador firmly at my side, a tear streamed down my face.  i can't say if it was because of the emotional pay off of such a fantastic film or because the story of woody and buzz, and their birth and life and eventual, i'll say it, death, felt so familiar.

hats off to you pixar, you've made magic again.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

the week

 i'm spent on ideas this morning. somehow amongst the cubic ton of paint cans and trash i tossed in to various dumps and receiving buildings through out the city, any ideas i've ever had about anything were plum smashed. instead, lets just talk about what i'm seeing this week, what might be coming out, what i might be doing.

call it "the week" and see what happens.

1.  toy story 3



wow, for the first time in a long time, i'm teeth-grittingly excited to be attending a screener. sure, once in a while, i'm happy to battle the wet-mouthed masses to sit, slump-shouldered in a theater eyes half-open. usually it pans out that hollywood has dropped another steaming pile in my mouth and i'm stuck trying to digest without throwing up. this time though, this is toy story 3, this is pixar, this is the end of a trilogy that wasn't planned years in advance.  this is an animated film that ends the stories of beloved characters as created by the absolute masters of field.  i'm pee-dancing in excitement.

2.  jonah hex



again, a film, in the theaters, produced by a major studio that has me on the verge of excitement.  not as much excitement as toy story 3 but still. a supernatural cowboy flick starring josh brolin and the sweaty chest of megan fox?  john malkovich as a world-ending bad-boy with that nasally voice of gravel and glass?  sure, there's franchise spraypainted all over this, but perhaps, due to its sheer weirdness and the weight of its main player (oh brolin, you were made for the dusty bowls of a the western screen) this could leap frog its grim predecessors and be something entirely different.

maybe.

3.  this trailer for the illusionist

magic.  the new trailer for the new film by the man behind the triplets of belleville.  a film based on an unfinished screenplay by jacques tati, starring a sort of animated version of the masterful m. hulot.

magic.  the moment with the motorcycles, the bunny, the bra ... i need to see this film.



---

what a week.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

watch this: dogtooth

this movie looks horrifying, in all the right ways.

somehow they've taken the sort of constrictive boxes of wes anderson's new york and injected a sense of unruly violence.  which i can only imagine is going to be amazing.



if anyone can tell me what this film is about ...

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

a boycott.


alex and i ended up seeing, for review shockingly enough, a fairly good movie starring michael douglas called solitary man last week. and though yes, the fact that i was allowed to see a film that wasn't a soul-sucking piece of shit, was quite shocking, but even more shocking was the fact that we screened the film at one of the sort of upper-class independent cinemas in san francisco, and on two of its screens ... sex and the city 2 was playing.  i would be angry only at the theater, as perhaps the money grubbing owners were unable to look past the solid good pile of shit the film is, and they just had to insert it in to one of their girls-night-out perfect theaters.

but alas, the film, as awful and offensive as it is, is playing at the castro (the bastion for amazing cinematic experiences in san francisco) as well as a handful of other truly great theaters.  this shitty, revolting bit of film has somehow transcended the wide-ranging and acidic feedback from the majority of film critics the world over and snuck itself past the megaplexs and in to the art houses.

a few thoughts on this:

1.  for a moment lets blame the theaters.  if you want to spend the majority of your time screening awesome, exciting, challenging bits of film, every once in a while you're going to have let your guard down and just let some shitty hollywood turd go to town on you.  it could be sex and the city 2 or prince of persia or the davinci code or some other oozy pile that will line your pockets, bring your studio an entirely different demographic of audience members, and generally help to wash away the acrid tang of bankruptcy.  it isn't easy being an arthouse theater these days and a little money in the back pocket could turn a lot of heads away from trash.

2.  but truly, lets blame ourselves.  we're a bunch of stupid fuckers these days, buying in again and again in to the absolute shit the studios keep thrusting our way.  we're creating a landscape in which small, amazing theaters have to put up there arms and surrender to the likes of carrie and her quartet of small brained ninnies.  by supporting these films we're saying, "yup, brainless as we are, we're giving you a reason to continue to clog our theaters, big and small, with this kind of shit.  you keep putting 'em out, we will continue to fork over the money needed to give you the impetus to do it all over again." and of course when we're all wasting our hard earned money on these big, awful pictures, of course we're not going to be heading on over to the lumiere or the embarcadero one to see rialto pictures new transfer of ran (316) or the new documentary on banksy.  and thus these little theaters are forced in some way to fill there screens with these crappy movies, and with these small theaters putting on the clothes of the multiplex-chains, all of sudden the smaller flicks have just one less screen to possibly fill.  it's a dangerous cycle we're stepping in to right now and the only way we as a cineaste community can change it is this: boycott.  we have to, as i've said before, stop going to these big budget pictures, stop giving the theaters, big and small, any reason to continue to carry films like prince of persia.  sure, the hollywood machine is going to keep churning this shit out and some zombie-like section of society will continue their streak of de-evolution by sticking out their furry-palmed hands, crumpled wads of money resting gingerly atop.  but if we, the people who give a shit about what we'll be watching in five, two, even a year, stop attending, stop filling the coffers, it's going to make a mark, small but noticeable.  perhaps without our dollars and bodies filling the spaces, a bow-tied manager will wander past an entirely empty screening room where sex and the city 2 blasts on the silver screen and they'll think to themselves, "hmmmmm ... there has to be something better."

maybe.