Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The only one to blame.

"I can assure you that in this film I did everything I wanted to do.  If you don't like it, I'm the only one to blame."

              -  Jacques Tati, director, on his film Mon Oncle (111)

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

How's my film viewing shaping up?

I've been wondering lately what I've watched so far this year and what those films say about my film tastes.  So, here we go.

I've seen these films so far this a year: The Wolfman, Shutter Island, The Ghost Writer, The Good Guy, The Crazies, The Yellow Handerkerchief, Alice In Wonderland, Brooklyn's Finest, Green Zone, Our Family Wedding, Mother, The Runaways, City Island, How To Train Your Dragon, Greenberg, Hot Tub Time Machine.

First off, I've only been reviewing films since the end of February and I've already ingested 16 films.  16 films hand-fed to me as well.  I did no searching or perusing or prodding to be invited to these films, I'm just on a list like so many other critics and when they beckon I come slouching on through.  All said, that's an average of 2-3 films a week over the course of the last six weeks.  Cinema overload.

Lets break these films down to ones I loved, the ones that didn't make me nauseous, and the ones I would love to fire out of a cannon in to the icy depths of the great, blue sea.

Loved: Shutter Island, The Crazies, The Yellow Handkerchief (minus the film's searing hatred deserving final frame), Mother, Greenberg

Lack of Nausea: Hot Tub Time Machine, Green Zone, Alice In Wonderland, Kick-Ass

Searing Hatred: The Wolfman, The Ghost Writer, The Good Guy, Brooklyn's Finest, Our Family Wedding, The Runaways, City Island, How To Train Your Dragon

What does this breakdown say about my filmic viewing so far?:

Not much.  Seemingly I more interested in the smaller, more cerebral stories.  Ones that challenge, regardless of the genre or subject of the film.  The films that rode down the well worn paths of a thousand big budget shit-fests before routinely put me to sleep.  Serious films, the non-comedic ones I mean, seem to mean more to me.  This is probably because I see most of these films without a cinema partner, and trying to force yourself to guffaw when there's no one to prompt you is strangely hard.  Comedic films are a shared experience, thus many of them fell flat on my solo jaunts.  Hot Tub Time Machine, a fairly hilarious if not forgettable film, was seen with the Criterion Conquistador in tow, and even though it wasn't her favorite film, I found myself chuckling more, amused by her rare amusement.

Action films have a soft-spot in my heart, so I can see why the non-nauseating films were stocked with action films that I consider at least a little sub-par.  I haven't been blown out of the water by a heavily weighted actioneer yet this sun-cycle, and I'm a little worried that I might not ever be again.  Action films can be great, but I want the glut of my story to be based around characters and their moral dilemmas, regardless of the genre.  The modern action film spends too much time, well, blowing shit up, and nearly never incorporates characters or a solid plot and that just doesn't do it for me anymore. 

In general I think I'm fairly hard on films, a trait I hate but can't seem to shake.  I love films so much and all I want is that love to be reciprocated, but of the 16 films I've seen and reviewed, I've only truly loved 5 of them.  I'd only pay money to see 5 of these films, and honestly, I was spared some of the worst ones. 

So does this mean movies are shittier or I'm just because a crotchety old man set in my feeble beliefs about what film should do and be?  Probably a little bit of both.


Criterion Counsel: Again, I feel terrible.  This quest is sandbagged.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

WATCH THIS: Art Clokey's - Mandala

It's Monday morning and I can pretty much assure you that I'm exhausted.  Luckily, Art Clokey, the creator of the beloved Gumby spent a small part of his life creating a short claymation film called Mandala.  It's the evolution of consciousness as told through delightful, tiny bits of clay.

It feels like an acid trip in clay as soundtracked by the original NES.



Criterion Counsel: Almost done.  Don't judge me, my life is very busy.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

It was Akira Kurosawa's Birthday!

He would've been 100. 

He made nearly a film a year for 40 years.

He directed High and Low (24) my favorite film of the Criterion Collection.

He turned Toshiro Mifune in to a star.

Long may your memory live Kurosawa-san.  Happy belated birthday.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Why aren't we superheroes yet?

 I saw Kick-Ass on Monday morning (let me tell you, seeing a 12 year old girl cut mobsters in half before I've had my daily sannich perhaps not the way director Matthew Vaughn had intended his film to be consumed) a film about a kid existing in a "real world" who decides to forgo the rampant saneness of our times and put on a wetsuit and fight "evil".  I've got opinions and they'll be posted soon enough, but what the film drew from me, a latent comic book geek who has, many many times over, fantasized about wearing spandex and beating up muggers, is why haven't we seen this happen in real life yet?

We're a culture in love with heroes.  We love lauding an individual who's performed an act of stupifying "good".  We love wrapping up our anger at the violence and terror of the world in to a single person, a single act, a single tip-of-the-iceberg bit of expulsion.  We label our good and our bad with terms like "heroes" and "villains" regardless of what they're wearing.

Alongside this we're fixated on films that remove us from the grays of our casual existence.  We as a culture love the notion of black and white.  Of, again, good, evil, right, wrong and on and on.  Comic books, films, books - the most popular of our times are those that give power in to the hands of one we can easily associate with one side of the moral coin.  Look at the rise in popularity of the super-hero film! We want nothing more than to be able to skip past the rules and moral regulations that hamper our abilities and throw on a pair of tights, grab a few guns and take to the streets.

And I ask: why hasn't anyone yet?  Why are our news stories every night focused on car crashes and shootings in schools and fluffy bits of emotionalized fluff?  What keeps us as a society from taking a step over that line of proposed sanity and bedecking ourselves in colorful costumes and fighting the "criminals" of the world?

Even our superhero films and comic books have slanted more towards the realistic.  Look at Iron-Man and Kick-Ass, films that put weight behind being a superhero, that transpose the spandex clad heroes of our youth in to slightly skewed versions of our real world.  In both films the scrapes that our heroes take leave scars and cause death.  The villains of these pieces our mobsters and weapon developers (sure weapon developers with giant robot suits, but give me a break), real life characters that we as an audience can recognize and hate even more.  Public consensus seems to be that we enjoy a bit of fantasy immersed in the reality of our day-to-day lives.  We like the notion that out there somewhere a superhero is battling the forces of evil, keeping us safe in our beds.  Look at the military and their need to make out as if each and every soldier is some sort of power-endowed superman, fighting the noxious forces of terrorist evil.

Yet, when am I going to be able to turn on the news and see a nineteen year old kid with lazer guns on his wrists, flying across the sky in pursuit of a grandma's floral purse?   Have we relegated ourselves to the mundane, the military, the simple notion that heroes wear uniforms and have badges? 

I hope not.  I hope that someday I walk past a television store and a crowd of people has gathered outside and we are not watching the State of the Union, but instead we are tuned in to a fellow dressed like a bat, grappling with a bank robber wearing the guise of a clown.


Criterion Counsel:  My brother said I should try and finish one a week.  And I think that's a pretty doable bit of quest quota.  Thus, I'll fire up M. Hulot's Mon Oncle tonight, for at least a few moments.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Cozy Lummox

I was initially, long ago, drawn to the Criterion Quest not because of their impressive selection of films (something I honestly realized later in my life) but rather because of the amazing sense of design applied to each and every one of their releases.  There isn't a Criterion film that sits on a shelf that isn't an example of how to draw one's eye, how to use negative space, how to apply font to really highlight the thematic elements of a film.  I was slack-jaw obsessed from the start and at point even shot over an email suggesting/requesting that they turn a few of their more amazing covers in to full-on poster art.

That said my excitement was off the charts when, amongst my constant internet perusal, I discovered the blog of designer Eric Skillman.  This talented fellow has been the all-powerful force behind a good deal of the Criterion films that I love best, and his blog allows us, the layman, to take a peek in to what exactly what went in along the way to a completed project. 

The above image is a unused cover for the recent release of Steven Soderbergh's Che (496). One of hundreds Skillman went through in trying to pinpoint exactly the colors, themes, photographic representations to use on the box art.  His descriptions and his reasoning are well worth a look.

It's fascinating. 

I highly suggest you give it a peek.

Friday, March 19, 2010

WATCH THIS NOW: Asian Madness

Seeing Mother the other night really got me in a mood for some Asian film-madness. 

Thus I came promptly home and stumbled upon this:

And this:

Mind-goo is dripping out of my ears.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

WATCH THIS NOW: Bong Joon-ho's MOTHER Trailer

Just saw Bong Joon-ho's new film Mother and was just as completely stunned by it as I was by his earlier film Memories of Murder and his more popular monster flick The Host from a few years back.  It's twisty and tangled and dips in to a skewed sort of Korean version of mom-son noir on occasion, and damn if I wasn't riveted for the entire film.

The films out in limited release and I highly recommend tossing a dollar or nine at it.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

WATCH THIS NOW: John Lasseter's Where The Wild Things Are CGI Test Animation

John Lasseter's Where The Wild Things Are test animation.

Back in the day when Disney was struggling (in a time called the '80s) and in the midst of a possible hostile takeover, a man who would be king (of PIXAR) named John Lasseter realized there might be something in using computers in animation.  He presented the above test-clip to his superiors and they promptly fired the shit out of him.

Nonetheless, Lasseter went on to found PIXAR and now sleeps in a bed made of illegal elephant ivory.  His pillows are made of cheetah fur I hear.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

WATCH THIS NOW: The Kinks - Waterloo Sunset

The Kinks - "Waterloo Sunset"

Headed off to the sunset climes of San Luis Obispo this afternoon and I've been dreaming of all the bits and pieces that make up a perfect road-trip mix. The Kinks, a favorite band of mine, always figure one way or another in to a great driving soundtrack.

Monday, March 15, 2010

WATCH THIS: The Incredible San Francisco Artist' Soapbox Derby

The Incredible San Francisco Artists' Soapbox Derby, 1975. from Mike Haeg on Vimeo.
Director: Amanda Pope

75 cars, 32 trophies, 104 artistically minded individuals - yes sah, this is The Incredible San Francisco Artists' Soapbox Derby, 1975.

Even better? Each and every year, up on Potrero Hill, an event much like this still exists.  San Francisco, to your weirdness, I tip my beaten hat.

Source: Pacific Standard

Thursday, March 11, 2010

The Wide World: 3.11.10

Alex Healy w/ shoes :: Photo by Noah Sanders

Been a pretty high-octane week of activity around the old Criterion Quest office.  Trying to find balance -in my life right now between my constant urge to enjoy the freedom working three days a week affords me, watching films, writing, and moving forward in terms of getting said writing seen.

On top of those weighty goals, the amazing Alex Healy is starting an estate sale business, Old Hat, and I've been bopping around helping her and her partner pull things together in lieu of this weekends inaugural sale.

There's a lot out there and I'm only poking the iceberg.


Did you hear what I said?  The lovely Alex Healy is throwing a San Francisco based estate sale this weekend at 19th and Guerrero.  She has an amazing website, with a fantastic blog, and all the details HERE.

To go along with that, the amazing Elisabeth Carr wrote up the coming estate sale on local blog Mission Local, and not only is it a charming bit of writing, but yours truly took all of the photographs.  Check out the article HERE and Elisabeth's fantastic fashion blog Mission Closet HERE.

The always amazing Criterion Collection has done it again.  After shoveling half of their library on to Netflix instant, they just introduced a Hulu channel that lets you screen films they deem worthy.  Right now their showcasing all of the Zaitochi the Blind Swordsman pics, and you'd be sad to miss out on them ... for free.  This makes me happy as it says a few things about the film company I've dedicated so many hours to lauding: one, they aren't in it solely for the money.  Sure they want to make a dollar as much as the next guy, but more so, it seems that they want to bring good films to the diehards, regardless of their financial gain.  Secondly, they're not stodgy technological peons, lost to the world of internet freedom.  The Criterion Collection is on it folks, and you best keep your peepers peeled.

There's a big beautiful, world famous film studio on the suburban outskirts of Rome called the Cinecitta.  Built by Mussolini (yes, the fascist murderer) in 1937, this prime piece of cinematic real estate has undergone a series of ups and downs in its long history.  It's been used by some of the great directors (Fellini, Scorsese, etc.) and rightly so, as the studio is a sprawling complex, almost a town in itself that just seems to bleed cinema.  There's a great write-up of the legacy of Cinecitta over at Cineaste that you should probably read.

I'm pretty short-lived in my knowledge of documentaries.  I've only come to truly appreciate the genre in the last three, four years of my life, and thus my tastes run to the more recent style.  Quite honestly, some of the older documentaries evade me, coming across as tone poems more than anything else, but regardless, I'm excited that the good people of the Manhattan Anthology Film Archives are digging out the works of the New York School of Documentary, as it's a completely unknown entity to me.  They're starting out with the works of Leo Hurwitz, a political documentarian whom made the film Native Land (369) with Paul Robeson.  Check out the whole program HERE. Manhattan, I envy you.

There's so much more out there, I'm near-overwhelmed.


Criterion Counsel:  Actually kicked off the beginning of Mon Oncle (111) yesterday afternoon, regardless of the beautiful sun outdoors.  Perhaps I'll finish this one before summer hits. 

Wednesday, March 10, 2010


The Film: M. Hulot's Holiday (110)
The Director: Jacque's Tati (Mon Oncle (111), Playtime (112))

What Is It: The first of three Jacque Tati, semi-surreal, almost-entirely-silent films starring Tati's character M. Hulot.  Bumbling, and surprisingly charming, M. Hulot journeys to a seaside vacation town and, well, generally causes trouble.

A Lil' Bit of History:  M. Hulot's Holiday (110) was Jacque Tati's first dance with this renowned bumbler.  Tati played the character in the four films he made over the course of his career, each one a monstrous hit.  As Roger Ebert writes, "There was a time when any art theater could do a week's good business just by booking Hulot.''

The Expectation: I was on a high coming out of my surprising enjoyment of The Scarlet Empress (109) and as a burgeoning film snob I'm required to be excited about any French film from 1980 or before.  Thus, I was keener than keen.

The Experience:  Life really took a front seat for a while here at the old Criterion Quest.  Hulot and his wonderful holida were always present, always lingering in the back of mind, but it took weeks and weeks of self-motivation to finally sit down and swirl my toes in this beach-side comedy.

Strangely enough, whilst watching M. Hulot's Holiday (110) I found myself thinking about The Marx Brother's famous Duck Soup and the differences between the films and how they seem to unintentionally observe the very opposing traits of the two origin countries.  Duck Soup is an assault on the senses, a machine-gun rattle of jokes, insults and near-psychotic bouts of hilarious violence that leave you dry-mouthed and confused.  M. Hulot's Holiday (110) is, quite literally, a trip to the beach, a slowly-paced, saunter through a stylish world of France's bourgeoisie, interjected with dalliances of surreal humor that are appreciated but not necessarily gut-laughs.  Where Grouch and company are borderline obnoxious (in the most gratifying of ways), M. Hulot is a lovable dope, a silently spinning vortex of distraction that unknowing pulls all within striking distance in.

Both films play with the notion of the ruling class, the government, the need for change.  Duck Soup puts us at the forefront of the action.  Rufus T. Firefly is, quite quickly, the ruler of a country, and all of his actions are direct satires of the fumbling American government.  In M. Hulot's Holiday (110) we're given a look at the upper classes strict routines - the dinner bell, the beachside walks, the tightly-assed annoyance of those disturbed - and M. Hulot is a quiet bull in the China shop.  He's not trying to break anything, but his mere presence is enough to, quietly, turn these routines on their head.  He's a distraction - in tennis, in the dining hall, on the beach - that forces bridge-playing upper class to stop what they're doing and turn around.   In the final moments of the film as M. Hulot and Martine (Nathalie Pascaud) dance, alone in the dining room, every one is watching.  Jealous?  Maybe, but certainly aware that something else exists outside of their small little bubbles.

And here's where the difference between America and France sticks out the most.  The big, bold presence of the Marx's brother was how America wanted to be seen.  A sizable presence that "walked tall and carried a big stick."  And sure, Duck Soup pokes fun at the idea, but at the same time it embodies the in-your-face stylings of American comedy.  It's gaudy and broad and absolutely hilarious.  In comparison, in general, M. Hulot's Holiday (110) is stylized and sweet, a warm breeze off the ocean, that you smile at each and every time it rustles your hair.  I know little about France, but from stereotypes alone, I imagine that this sort of quiet humor embodies much of the Frenchie's way of thought.  Poke fun, but do so politely.


Criterion Counsel: Mon Oncle (111) is Tati's second attempt (in color) and it features a Jetson's like house of the future.  Hulot and hilarious modernity?  I'm in.

Monday, March 8, 2010

A few thoughts on The Oscars

Had a lot of Oscar-related thoughts kicking around the dusty attic twixt my ears and I thought, in smaller perhaps more digestible screes, I'd air 'em out.

Little gold man, I present you with vitriol.

They've always been a bit of a big deal in the Sanders family.  I credit an enormous amount of my adoration of cinema to my mother's twitchy-eyed obsession with the glitz and glamour of the yearly Hollywood telecast.  As I've grown older, and more keen on the corporate pie-fingering so troubling in Tinseltown, I've lost some interest in the big show.

This years show?  Unsurprisingly ho hum.  The producers continue to marginalize the host's ability to smart-aleck the audience.  The speeches, oh the speeches, continue to be laundry lists of veritable unknowns, and I'm always baffled at why folks thank The Academy.  My most egregious complaint?  They chose to include 10 pictures for the coveted Best Picture category and do they reach out across the land to stock the larders with interesting and unique films to balance out the steaming piles already guaranteed spots?  Not a chance.  Instead they backslide, awarding a handful of truly awful films chances to take home Oscar gold.

Now I haven't seen it, but The Blind Side?  My initial viewing of the trailer had me wondering who'd snuck the Lifetime Channel on to my computer.  Is this the direction the Oscars are veering towards cramming absolute sentimental pap around true winners like The Hurt Locker and to some degree, Avatar?  In lieu of Sandra Bullock vehicles, why not plug the newly minted Best Picture holes with deserving independent films or foreign pictures or a healthier dose of genre pictures?  Because these smaller pictures aren't going to bring in the piles of money the suit-and-tie, sun-tanned execs running the movies need to sleep on at night.

I think what bothers me the most about the blockbuster-clogged Best Picture category is the possibility that could exist.  Regardless of your feelings about the Oscars, the broadcast is watched by an enormous selection of people.  The films that are nominated are going to get a boost regardless of what they are, as just the nomination creates interest.  Thus, why not let smaller, more intelligent films gain some of the kudos, financial and critical, the Best Picture noms are lauded with?

Why not create a film culture based around quality and not financial success?

I'd love to know.


Criterion Counsel: Making headway. 

Friday, March 5, 2010

The Screener, pt. 1.

Public screenings are funny things.  I imagined, when I first started doing this pseudo film-reviewing gig screeners would be private affairs filled with hirsute intellectuals debating the pros and cons of late Kurosawa and the like.  I imagined angered stares when cell-phones rang, the gentle sound of pen scratching note-paper, and the scent of pensive viewing permeating the air. 

I was exceptionally wrong.  Public screenings are chaotic in nature.  Various outlets (radio stations, blogs, production companies, etc.) advertise for screeners of their films in a variety of ways: ticket giveaways, flyering, free passes to the public, etc.  There's never a mention in any of these advertising forms of the fact that theaters have limited seats and in terms of early screenings, nearly half of those limited seats are reserved for press.  Thus the mob that arrives hungry for free cinema, is always, much to their surprise only partially allowed in.  Even those "lucky" film-goers released in to the cinema, are then faced with a selection of seats abysmal to say the least.  The press section of a public screener is almost the entire middle of the theater.  A hefty chunk of the center section is plastered with obnoxious red "Reserved Section" signs, forcing the lovers of free film in to tight sections close to the screen or in the far back of the cinema. 

Almost always, every single time, there's anger about the press section.  Loaded down with popcorn and candy, the public always attempts to just circumvent the various Promotions people and plop themselves down in the prime seats ten rows back, center.  And almost always, said Promotions people appear out of nowhere to redirect them to some tiny nook.  The early moments before any of these screenings always seem anxiety-charged, with people looming on the edges waiting for the chance to drop themselves in to a seat once reserved for press, or angrily espousing their hatred of the privilege inherent in the reserved seating.  I find myself half-amused by the proceedings, hunkered down in my gated community, waiting to watch the newest blockbuster early.  At times though I'm worried, "Are these free-cinema loving fans going to take out their misguided anger on we who've been giving the opportunity to enjoy the center seats?"  All of sudden I feel upper class, I feel as if I've got something someone else isn't allowed, and quite honestly, it makes me feel a little jumpy.

My worry, in the moments before the film starts, is that the always raucous screener crowd will be unable to contain their excitement during the film and I'll have to silently curse the public throughout, distracting me from my precious movie, and there by running my experience.  Up to now (and Alex claims that this is always true) the screeners have been perfect in their audience participation.  Cellphones have been kept to a minimum, talking has been almost non-existent, and the audience has clearly enjoyed the films whooping and hollering when necessary, gasping when scared.  These screener audiences have been some of the best I've encountered.

I've got a lot to say on this newly experienced screener.  Next time I'll be talking about what I like to call "screener profiling" a curious side-topic to the screener that I find fascinating.


Criterion Counsel: Today my friends, today I finish M. Hulot's Holiday (109).

The Work of Al Jarnow

Al Jarnow was a big name in animation for a long time. Cut his teeth working on such animation hotbeds as the old school Sesame Street shows.  I was never a Sesame Street kid myself, I preferred the kicks and punches and costumes of Batman and the Power Rangers, but now, as a pseudo-adult, Jarnow's work just speaks to me.

Lucky for us, for you and me, Jarnow's collected works (40 shorts and an Al Jarnow-centric documentary) are being put out by the bastions of all things amazing, The Numero Group.  The collection is entitled Celestial Navigations and I can only wish it was my birthday so I could harangue some friend or another in to gifting it to me.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

QUICK NOTES: Ballast, d. Lance Hammer

In my gentle opinion, every film I watch merits a write-up.  Perhaps it isn't the academic dissection of a great film, or the study of a film in its chronological context, but still, I believe, and please disagree with me (everyone else seems to), that ever film warrants discussion.  Yes, this discussion may just for me to better place the film within the vast filmic storage unit that is my brain, but perhaps a brief write-up will get you excited, stray your opinion, turn you on to a burst of cinema you'd have blindly passed in the street.

Or maybe it's just because I love to write about film.


The Film: Ballast 
The Director: Lance Hammer

The Hype:  Quite honestly, I can't recall as to where or when or why I've heard about this film.  A roommate (two roommates actually) had mentioned it in passing, but somewhere amongst the stunning disorganization of my life, it must've slipped my mind.  That said, Ballast swept and mopped the award shows in 2008, and when it serendipitously fell in my possession I dove right in.

The Truth:  Filmed in beautiful desolation of the Mississippi Delta, Ballast focuses on the relationship between a depressed twin (Michael J. Smith Jr.), his nephew (JimMyron Ross) and sister-in-law (Marlee) in the wake of his brother's suicide.  The Mississippi Delta is a stark and dangerous seeming place for a bored teenager to be running amok, and with the help of a group of non-actors, director Lance Hammer brings this harsh reality to life in a poetic, yet stunningly realistic manner.

I was most impressed with Michael J. Smith Jr.'s portrayal of the obviously intelligent yet numbingly depressed twin Lawrence.  There's a deep set softness in the character, a sort bumbling naivete, hardened by a sharp edge of lonely anger against the world.  The film follows Lawrence as he's forced, at gunpoint even, to re-enter the life of a woman, and her child, who hate him, and Hammer show's us the world with out reserving any judgment.  These characters are immensely broken and attempting to survive in a world that continues to pile on the misery, and this film isn't about their redemption or their success, it's just about them, and the small period of life in which we get to view them.

Final Thoughts:  As I get older and view more films, I find more and more enjoyment in these weighty character studies.  I've grown bored with big budget (as any aging film fan should) and this sort of quiet, tense look in to a whole different way of living was both gorgeous and fascinating.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

THE BASICS: Manhattan

What is The Basics?  In brief:

Drew McWeeny (of Ain't It Cool fame, now prolifically covering film over at Hitfix) will throw out a film that he considers a must see for any film fan, a film that William Goss (a film lover in my own vein, versed but not encyclopedic, chugging away over at Cinematical, surely as we speak) will watch and respond to. What McWeeny hopes is that in discussing these classic films he'll not only give readers an assortment of films to peruse in their own time, but also start a conversation about these important pieces of culture.

I love film.  You might call me a film "geek".  I might secretly feel sort of sad when I wake up to a sunny day, knowing that I'll spend it outside away from my precious films.  Truthfully though, the gaps in my film knowledge could fit whole theaters in them.  I haven't seen all the great works by all the great directors (let alone the American masters) or dug in deep to the exploitation genre.  I can't name off every film starring Steve McQueen or tell you what film won Best Picture in 1965.  But I want to.  Thus, with McWeeny throwing down the gauntlet, I've decided to follow along.

His second choice is Woody Allen's Manhattan.  Now I've seen a lot of Woody Allen, but somehow, someway, I've completely and totally missed out on this, his oft times claimed masterwork.

Check out McWeeny's post HERE, and then William Goss's response HERE.


I'm conflicted when it comes to Woody Allen.   As much as I love his classics (the one's I've seen) - Annie Hall, Hannah and Her Sisters, Sweet & Lowdown (minor classic) - I think at times the characters he writes for himself (or whatever high-profile performer he's shuffling in to the role of nebbish worry-wart) border on caricature.  I was shocked at times during my watching of Manhattan how much Woody Allen, both in delivery and appearance, reminded me of Groucho Marx.  The eyebrows, the softly spoken follow ups to his gags, the thick glasses and machine gun comedy - Woody Allen and Groucho Marx are like distant cousins.   But where Marx and company seemed blissfully happy to leap in to insanity, I alway expect a great sense of subtlety from Woody Allen, a restraint that reflects the intellectuals he always plays.

In Manhattan though, sweet, amazing Manhattan, Woody Allen sheds the cigar-chompin' caricature of Sleepers and Bananas and creates a film that shows not only the humor in the lost love and remorse of a broken relationships, but the deep pain and sadness it creates.

Woody Allen plays Isaac, a burgeoning writer dating a seventeen year-old.  His good friend Yale (Michael Murphy), is married and having an affair with Mary (Diane Keaton).  When Yale introduces Isaac to Mary, Isaac begins to question his relationship with Tracy (the seventeen year old played with amazingly sincere innocence by Mariel Hemingway).  It's simple and direct, and allows Woody Allen to add a layer of emotion to the character he'd been building in films like Annie Hall.  

Manhattan is still a film about Woody Allen and the character he's defined and redefined over and over again throughout his career.  Insecure and anxious, quick with a razor-sharp bit of observation, Isaac is the nebbish ladies man Woody Allen always seems to write (and I consider a mark of his talent that he can always make me believe that 5'3" Jewish writer from New York could bag both Mariel Hemingway and Meryl Streep).  What's different in Manhattan is that this nebbish character doesn't just steamroll over the women in his life, instead Isaac makes errors, mistakes, and he feels pain because of it.  There's a scene near the end of the film when Isaac admits to Yale's ex-wife (Anne Byrne Hoffman) that he's made an error in letting go of Tracy, and instead of it being a joke or a gag, it's a truly personal monologue.  Isaac knows he's made an error, knows that he's lost the woman that truly inspires him, that he might actually love.  And as Isaac confesses to the camera you can see it in his eyes, his slumped shoulders, the slow-ish rhythm of his voice.  He's done something wrong, and in Manhattan those mistakes have true emotional resonance.

You might say that Manhattan is the logical progression of Woody Allen's stock cast of characters.  Diane Keaton's Mary isn't the bubbly goofball of Annie Hall, she's a hard-nosed writer, rife with nervousness and fears, Ms. Hall ten years in the future, her heart and persona battered around a bit by a rough series of break-ups.  And that's what draws me to Manhattan in a way so many of Allen's newer films (hell, early films) fail to do - the sense of consequence to the actions of these characters.  It gives a depth to Allen's humor, a sense of pathos to his witty repartee that just gets me right under the rib cage.


Criterion Counsel: I don't even want to talk about it.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Ben Stiller's aging face.

I have issues with aging.  The slow degradation of items, objects, landscapes, and most scarily, we as human beings.  At times I find it difficult to purchase new things because I know that even if they look amazing, spotless, untouched within the hard plastic shells of their packaging, as soon as I remove them from their consumer armor, they'll be dinged, dirty, already on the long (or short) road to decomposition. 

I saw the new film by Noah Baumbach, Greenberg, last week and, regardless of my glowing anxious love for the film, was shocked by Ben Stiller's appearance.  It isn't that he looks different, or deformed, rather, he looks more like Ben Stiller.  There's the famous Michelangelo saying about he wasn't trying to carve anything out of rock, but rather trying to remove the bits and pieces of that were surrounding what was already there.  That's what Stiller's face in Greenberg reminded me of, as if the years of life he's lived have slowly peeled away the parts that weren't him, revealing this perfect representation of Ben Stiller.

Of course this could be a trick of the camera, an intentional move by Baumbach and company.  Stiller's character in the film is an anxious mess, the sort of outwardly-blaming headcase that life drags at.  He writes letters to big corporations, lashes out at those who thinks who are wrong - he's pretty much that kind of asshole.  Thus, the newly taut lines of Stiller's face might have been played up to point out that life has hardened this man.

But I think not.  I think Stiller, as he gets older, is becoming all angles, the softness of his face peeling away to the point of caricature.  He's condensing, the pressure of age, contracting his features in to a compounded version of the Stiller we know and love.  I wonder how, with Stiller still blindly attaching himself to ridiculous concept-comedies, his now-more angular face, rife with pained anxiety, will play.  Is he going to be forced in to an era of seriousness due to his ever-sharpening visage? 

If his performance in Greenberg has anything to say of it, I certainly hope so.

The story up to now ...

In the last two months, these things have happened:

1.  I quit my long-time job at Light In The Attic Records in the hopes that I could focus on my own projects.  This created the near perfect situation where I work for barely three days a week, still managed to live in a fantastic part of the city, and had four days to focus on my true loves: films, films, and films. 

2.  Literally a week after deciding that LITA was no longer the home I wanted to have, I received an email from another blog I write for informing me that with the lightest flick of the wrist I would now be on a screener list for the greater San Francisco area.  This would mean that nearly any and all films that opened on the big screen in my area, the Yay Area, I would be invited to, sans payment, to reflect upon and then review.  Life long goal accomplished.  Pop the bubbles, turn on the hottub, cook up a steak.

3.  For the last three, maybe four weeks, I've literally been immersed in film.  I worried at first that because of Side One: Track One's smallish readership that perhaps I would only be invited to the films that every outlet was allowed.  Or even worse I be shuffled in to side theaters to see made-for-television melodramas and focus group discussions.  As I often do when presented with anxiety, I started knockin' on doors to make sure that all was right and the floodgates were open for Hurricane Noah to slide through.  I've been sending emails, by the bucket full, to those in charge of screeners to make sure that the films that are being released each and every week are being viewed ... by me.  My first week I saw three films, then two, films and now steadily, for the last two I've seen four films a week, sometimes two a day.  A literal engorgement of cinema.  I'm bloated, but Jesus, if this isn't the life for me.

You can follow my reviews, for the moment at Side One: Track One, and I'll surely be linking to each and every film as I review them.

4.  On top of that, my beautiful Criterion Conquistador has started a new business involving the excavation and sale of dead people's effects.  The talented lady, and her equally talented business partner are in all engines go mode and as a diligent supporter (and infatuated follower) I've been assisting as much as possible.  Eleven hours spent amidst Jesus paraphernalia and rat shit, as you might imagine, can be a bit exhausting.

5.  Thus my Quest, my sweet sweet Quest, has fallen behind a bit.  I've been festooned amongst Jacque Tati's near-silent masterworks for weeks now, and with four films bubbling up on the horizon and a trip to San Luis Obispo and, and, and ... well, lets just say it might be a while.  But in the meantime, as I've said recently and frequently, this blog will continue, and for god's sake it will be more about film and my increasing love for it, than ever before.

Stay with me people.  Stay with me.


Criterion Counsel: Have spent the last three days watching Manhattan.  The French must be put on hold when Manhattan comes a-callin'.