Friday, April 30, 2010

sylvain chomet's upcoming tribute to jacques tati

I know, my obsession with Tati has no end, but when you hear that the director of the amazing Triplets of Belleville has recently completed a film, entitled The Illusionist, based on an unfinished screenplay by the French comic master my mouth gets a little wet around the edges.

Though I can't believe that Hulot will actually appear in the film, the main character, an aging magician fumbling his way through the changes in modern France, is based on the bumbling everyman.  Look at that stance, the way he spins a cane!  Hulot, he lives again.

Color me excited.


criterion counsel: i have fallen asleep the last three nights and the dvd has spun it's way to a similarly blaring big band dance scene each night.  last night i got a little further in the film though and couldn't be more excited.  it has that feel of a great caper flick - the team, the plan, the heist - but all turned on its merry head.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

what ever happened to jennifer lopez?

i have a problem saying no to a free movie, regardless of what it is, thus last week the criterion conquistador and i sat through the new jennifer lopez film the back-up plan. it was as awful as one might imagine: trite, surprisingly boring, and unsurprisingly homophobic in several scenes.  even though the audience was stacked with the j-lo loving public, laughs (aside from the criterion conquistador's dishonest chuckle) were few and far between.

i left theater with two thoughts in mind:

1.  every film offered doesn't need to be seen.


2.  what ever happened to jennifer lopez?  seriously, at one point in time, at the crux of her soon-to-be immense stardom jennifer lopez seemed imbued with the sort of star quality of a talent like frank sinatra or marilyn monroe.  an all-around performer with the ability to command a stage or a big-budget film or lower her wages and slide in to a devastating performance under some artsy director.  sure, the one-time fly girl who's become a perennial subject of the tabloids, when viewed in hindsight, doesn't seem to have had that sort of career bubbling within her, but please, can we just take a look at Out of Sight.

for many reasons, steven soderbergh's unheralded crime classic is five-star film.  the witty adaptation of elmore leonard's beloved book is not only headlined by two drop-dead amazing performances (george clooney as the never-use-a-gun robbery expert jack foley, and of course j-lo herself as the hard-nosed romance-begone u.s. marshall karen sisco) but it's supported by an unnervingly talented cast of supporters.  steve zahn's stoner crook, ving rhames quotable sidekick, dennis farina's hard-loving cop - it just doesn't stop.  pile that one with the sort of new wave edit, elliot davis' almost hazy cinematography and a blisteringly hot bit of chemistry between clooney and lopez, and this is really one of the great films of the last twenty years.

jennifer lopez's karen sisco is a crucial element of this film.  she's the perfect balance of steamy sexuality (and please the motel scene with clooney near the end is a raging pile of hot) and toughened cop.  you can imagine her kicking the shit out of some no-good perp while still completely buying her romantic woes.  karen sisco is so desperate for romance in her perpetually unbalanced life, that even her exact opposite, a dashingly handsome felon keen on robbery, sucks her in, and lopez plays it in a way where her softer side seems accessible.  if soderbergh, in choosing an actress for the role, had slid in either direction - too soft, or too hard - the interplay between the two main characters would never have succeeded.  but soderbergh, in a bit of out-of-the-box casting that has to be lauded, chose a spicy latina from the bronx who was on the verge of stardom, both as an actress and a singer.

and lopez nails it.  she's such a deft combination of hard and soft in this film, that i, as a late-pubescent male, wanted her both to arrest me and touch me.  to slap me around a bit and then romp in the hay with me.  against a formidable opponent/lover like george clooney a lot of good looking lead actors become just that, looks.  but here lopez uses her curves as a weapon in the game they play.  they're both strikingly attractive in this film (again, thank elliot's gauzy photography for that) but the attractive elements of both of them are the emotions and the way their played just right.

credit soderbergh and the script and a complete fluke for j-lo's only good performance, or perhaps just give the talented lady a hand.  i can't say what happened to j-lo, perhaps the draw of bigger money in bigger pictures sabotaged the burgeoning acting career she had, or perhaps the small, more intense roles weren't ever really in the picture.  or perhaps, j-lo's much lauded ego just got the best of her but out of sight, sweet sweet film that it is, gave us a glimpse of a new force in hollywood.  a star in the mold of the ultra-attractive, quick-witted ladies of the 1940s and 50s, and sadly, for whatever reason, that glimpse was all we got.


criterion counsel: ah jaysus, barely gave it peep.  but i have written two reviews for the film festival that you can find here and here.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

the glamour of critique

Wow, you'd think that seeing free movies three or four times a week would be a dream come true for an absolute filmic nut like myself.  And to a degree it really is.  I love going to theater.  Love sitting amongst a crowd and watching a film, be it big and dumb or small and intimate or just a standard old Hollywood clunker - I love the theatrical film experience.  As I've gotten older though, finding the money or time to get to a movie in the theater has gotten harder and harder and my precious moments spent amongst the cinema's open arms have become less and less frequent.  To the point where I'd actually started to think that perhaps home theater experiences (tiny lap-top, bed) were more enjoyable than a trip to the local moviehouse.

Thus when the opportunity to review films came along I nearly lost it.  This would mean a few things: I'd be able to see films - for free -; I'd be able to write about films; and I'd be able to head to the theater on a near weekly basis to immerse myself in the strange sweetness of the theatah. 

My little heart pittered and pattered with joy.

It's been almost three months now since I started reviewing and in some way, the glossy sheen of excitement as worn off.  It's not that I don't love films and reviewing films, it's more so the films that I'm given the opportunity to few on a weekly basis, are well, for the most part, pure shit.  I'm not joking here. I've seen five films in the last two weeks and two of them were amongst the worst films I've ever seen with one bordering on a high school History Day project and the other two sating me at least a little bit.

What I guess I never understood about being a critic is that all the shit that you get to avoid as a discerning viewer is thrust upon you in waves and instead of being able to duck out, eyes closed, screaming for the exit, you have to sit amongst it.  The Criterion Conquistador and I have sat through some truly terrible films lately and if it was not for her presence I think I might've cracked.  Even scarier, the studios do such a good job of profiling these pictures that every audience seems completely and totally won over by these horrid flick.  So not only am I permanently scarred by a J-Lo rom-com and Pierce Brosnan crying like a clown, but I have to deal with the fact that people actually enjoy these films.  That these films will make money.  That perhaps my dislike of shit-piles like The Greatest or The Perfect Game are the minority amongst a culture in love the fart jokes and melodrama.

I stand outside of almost every film I see and wonder why exactly I do this.  And I think, I hope, it's because I love movies and my need to see all of them is some sort of unending quest to find gems amongst the shit piles and not some perverse need to punish myself.

Alex and I were slowly, dazedly, walking away from The Back-Up Plan last night in near silence (a real stinker can do that to you) and as I started to chatter about my dislike of the film, my dear dear lady friend said just this:

"Maybe you shouldn't see every film they offer you."

So true.  So very, very true.


Criterion Counsel:  Saw perhaps a minute of Big Deal On Madonna Street (113) last night before those strangling arms of sleep took me under.  Looked good though, let me tell you.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010


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

What It Is:  The most ambitious, in my humble opinion, of Tati's M. Hulot Criterion-represented trifecta, Playtime (112) is yet another foray in to the bumbling bachelor's interactions with an incredibly modern France.  This go around finds M. Hulot courting a young tourist amongst technology fairs, imploding restaurants and so much more.  Quite honestly brilliant.

A Lil' Bit Of History: This is only Tati's fourth film as a director (he only made five) and it took nearly three years to shoot.  The film was shot on a massive, custom built sound stage (deemed 'Tativille') on an equally massive 70mm camera.  It's release drew critical praise, but financially it struggled to make back the enormous production costs Tati had accrued.

A Lil' Bit More History: To save money on the film, as Tati had invested a substantial bit of his own cashola in to the film, many of the background sets are actually just enormous photos.

The Expectation: Brilliance, exponentially compounding brilliance.

The Experience: It's been a sort of wild week of film, what with Mon Oncle (111) sliding down the hatch last week, House this weekend, and then a madcap rendezvous with this fantastic film over the course of the last three days.  I've taken to early morning film watching, with the Criterion Conquistador snoozing besides me, and after a failed attempt to work this morning, I came back and blissfully slipped in to Tativille and all that it entailed.

1.  Stunning

Over the course of the last month of Tati immersion, I've found myself more and more drawn to the director's ability to imbue scenes full of extras and set pieces with a sort of lonely sparseness.  Tati, in a gentle way, was at war with the idea of creeping modernity, and in each of his films, especially Mon Oncle (111) and this film, the scenes of hustle and bustle are projected as insincere, almost draining.  Yet Playtime (112), amongst it's subtle humor and sadness, is a stunning display of monochromatics.  Grey, black and white dominate most of the film, and my oh my, does Tati do a brilliant job of painting a stunning visage of a 1960s-style automated future.  The opening scene in an airport almost choked me up it was so attractive, and the film just snowballs in terms of cinematography from that point forth.  Tati's been referred to as a master of 'mise-en-scene' and Playtime (112) certainly proves that.

2.  Hulot as a character, not a lead.

Before doing any research on the film, you'll watch Playtime (112) and scratch your head, briefly, wondering where Tati's M. Hulot actually is.  The film, amazing nonetheless, is decidedly lacking M. Hulot. The trenchcoated gentlemen appearing infrequently and for only short intervals.  Though the film doesn't suffer a lick from his absence, there is reason to Tati's Hulot-less madness: he was tired of the character.  By the time Playtime (112) rolled around, Tati was more interested in lambasting the modern France he lived in than starring in the films he made.  The character of M. Hulot was so popular in France though, that he couldn't disconnect completely without losing a sizable bit of his audience.  Thus, Playtime (112) appears to be a Hulot film, but truthfully he's just another part of the crowd.  Luckily, Tati's films have always relied on a sort of communal feel, where Hulot exists as a important part, a softly lobbed pipe bomb, but never dominates the film.  His fleeting appearance in this film seem only a part of the general malaise towards city life and all its abysmal traits.

3.  Hulot's lacking pt. 2

That said, even if Tati pulled his beloved character to focus more on his true love - directing - Hulot's disappearance in the film seems to fit right at home in the Hulot-quartet (the final film being Trafic (439)).  Through each film we learn more about the character of M. Hulot (his family, his jobs, his aversion to technology) and in each film we're pulled more and more in to the modern world Tati creates.  Where M. Hulot's Holiday (110) finds M. Hulot a central character in a beach-side vacation town, Mon Oncle (111) finds him a bumbling uncle in a town slowly being consumed by rampant consumerism, and finally Playtime (112) finds him a wary visitor to a super-modern city.  And each film he's less and less involved in the actual plot, as if Hulot as a character disassociates more and more with the all-consuming advent of technology.  He's just got a pipe, an umbrella and a penchant for comical disaster, and the wild world of chugging cars and shiny glass windows isn't his place.  His bumbling lack of direction never has seemed so poignant, as the big, glowing city nearly swallows him up.

4.  Big, big, and bigger.

Tati literally built a city for this film and it's not even the biggest thing about it.  The near forty-minute Royal Garden scene is one of the largest, longest, most impressive set pieces created in the history of film.  With no Hulot in site, we the audience are invited in to the opening night festivities of entirely too-new upscale restaurant.  Everything, everything, quite quickly goes to shit, and the appearance of M. Hulot, an uproarious jazz band and a host of drunkards pushes right over the edge.  It's almost like a giant version of Where's Waldo where each time you look you find a new sight gag taking place, a new character to fixate on, a new explosion to giggle at.  It wanes and grows and swells and fluctuates in a way scenes, let alone films, just don't anymore. 

Last Words: Brilliant.  Mouth-watering.  Stunning. I can't write more about this film.  On a superficial level it's an achievement unequaled today.  Dig deeper though and this is a film rife with deep thoughts on technology, city life, the way we as a society are slowly losing ourselves to machines.  Playtime (112) is a film sixty years ahead of it's time, and anyone with a love for film needs to repeatedly lose themselves in it.


Criterion Counsel:  Gasping at the Tati-less near future, but excited as hell for whatever might come next.

Monday, April 19, 2010


Had been waiting for months and months to catch a peek of the new print of Nobuhiko Obayashi's House.  Janus Film has been touring this brilliantly crazy film around the country for months now and if you've already been lucky to have seen it in some packed theater in the waning hours of the night, you'll understand my new found obsession with it.

I don't know a lot about Japanese culture, but somehow this strange, creepy bit of playful horror seems to hit the nail on the head in terms of everything I've ever thought about it.  The story of a group of seven girls who retire to a distant relatives house for summer vacation is one fourth hilarious 80s horror film, though the film was released in the late 1970s, a fourth teenage romance, and perhaps half, if not more, what-the-fuck.  From frame one this film holds nothing back in embracing the sort of brightly colored, tube-socked aesthetic of the late 70s/early 80s, and I was reminded of a sort hyper-realized take on every American horror film that eeked its way in to the cinemas around this time. 

I'm having difficulty even typing about this film because of the experience of watching it in a theater surrounded by hyped up fans of the film is more than I can explain.  Know these things:

-  a girl is eaten by a piano in this film
-  there is an evil, lazer-eyed kitty named Blanche
-  there is a hungry teen named Mac who ends up headless and biting on rear-ends
-  Kung Fu is a character in the film and with much to do she does just that
-  I left this film thinking that any lo-fi video producer worth his salt today has seen this film over and over again and has taken notes on burning make-up application and hyper-color piano playing
-  bananas, bananas, bananas

Go see this film.


Criterion Counsel: In love with the film, but not finished just yet.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

watch these: michel gondry's semi-new video & an amazing trailer about tiny furniture

quick posts for a quick day.

seeing two films back-to-back today.  films that might actually enable me to love modern cinema again.  not cry myself to sleep after the barrage of badness i was subject to last week.  apologies to the criterion conquistador for dragging her along.

cheech marin should never be a priest.

for your enjoyment:

a trailer by science of sleep director michel gondry for a video by big-voiced crooner mia doi todd's track "open your heart."  not my favorite song, but the gondry's childlike sense of color always strikes me as particularly unique in it's sort of rag-tag simplicity.

i wonder if he's a giggling school boy in person.  i hope so.

Mia Doi Todd "Open Your Heart" dir. Michel Gondry from Viewers Like You on Vimeo.

and this, a new trailer for lena durham's second feature, tiny furniture.  aesthetically, she's a real beaut, but i worry that the content of the film might be a hodge-podge mix-up of woody allen, wes anderson, and every other new york director of the last five years.

not a clue though.  not even a small one.

Tiny Furniture Trailer from Lena Dunham on Vimeo.


criterion counsel: started the jacque tati's third film in the criterion collection the other day and have been wet at the corners of my mouth in excitement to grab another peek.  i'm thinking the whole film done by tonight or tomorrow.  lofty i know.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

tati talk

I know it seems as if I'm obsessively posting about the master of French silent comedy, Jacques Tati lately, but I've been deeply immersed in his works over the last, sigh, two or months.  Each layer I pull up just reveals another facet of how talented this director/comedian was, and how in contrast to the American comedies of the time, his sweet, near-ambient films were.

Mind my obsession, it will fade soon as Playtime (112) sadly, so sadly comes to an end.

Here, a smattering of trailers and clips that will give you just a hint at why I obsess ...

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

monsieur hulot you will not smoke

Not exactly current news, but the French, stringent observers of taste and culture that they are put the kibosh on the iconic pipe of one M. Hulot last year, decorating posters of the befuddled comedian with yellow sparks over his signature smoking vessel.

Aghast you disrespecting Frenchies you.

The crime (quite punishable if you ask me) in question:

An explanation:


Criterion Counsel:  Soon my friends, soon.

Monday, April 12, 2010


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

What Is It: The second in Criterion's three-disc set of all things Jacques Tati.  Tati was, and continues to be posthumously, a renowned comedic director and actor.  The moustached director used his character M. Hulot (a sort of bumbling everyman) to poke and prod at the machinations of the post-war French government.  In Mon Oncle (111) we find M. Hulot breaking and bumbling his way through the post-war consumerism that, ahem, consumed France in the wake of World War II.  There's post-modern houses, oil spewing fish statues, and a slew of oddly dressed socialites.

A Lil' Bit of History: On its release, Mon Oncle (111) was, to a degree, critically reviled as many of the to-do critics at the time saw is un-patriotic in its depiction of a France awash with needless spending and industry.  This lasted only as long as the film wallowed in the shadows, barely weeks before the international press rejoiced, awarding it the Oscar for Best Foreign Film, amongst others.

The Expectation:  Another spot-on, darling romp from a master of French cinema I'd previously been un-hip to.

The Experience:  I started a business with the Criterion Conquistador and our good friend Dartanyan, thus this film was lost in the cracks for a long while.  It may have been almost a month, or longer since I started the film, but in the wee hours of the morning today I crossed the Mon Oncle (111) finish line.

1.  Subversion in the silliest way.

M. Hulot is as subversive as a pipe bomb thrown through a storefront.  Yes, the nattily dressed everyman, seems only to fumble his way through each and every set piece, in his gentle manner he's flipping an enormous bird to all the rumbling mechanics of the French government.  The scene: a provincial town in France slowly being consumed by the shining metal of the post-modern consumerism.  M. Hulot stays at his brother-in-law's Jetson like house, rife with automated switches and stark interiors.  Over the course of the film, Hulot interacts with the beacons of the upper-crust, a series of stuffed-shirt CEOs and other fans of the rampant consumerism.  Never does Hulot aggressively poke fun, he just lives his life, a simple polite existence, and everything else just looks absurd in comparison. Throw in a town full of the sort of smiley drunks and working class individuals Tati populates all his films with and this is muted attack on French aristocracy.

2.  Monsieur Arpel

No one speaks a great deal in the films of Jacque Tati.  He's a master of painting a scene and allowing the physical aspects of comedy run amok.  But Monsieur Arpel (Jean-Pierre Zola) is even less need of words.  He is a sausage of a man, squeezed in to expensive suits, an almost physical representation of all things wealthy.  He forces himself in to boat-like cars, his sheer bulk echoing the needless spending he's obviously a perpetrator of.  As I watched the film this morning I couldn't take my eyes off of him.

3.  So simple and quiet.

I can't imagine an American film in the 1950s that could exist without the influx of constant chatter.  Yes, some of the Westerns at the time dilly-dallied with silence equaling strength, but Tati creates a world where conversation is background noise, an ambient addition that helps highlight the proceedings at hand (most likely M. Hulot absent-mindedly breaking something).  Characters speak (more so in Mon Oncle (111) than M. Hulot's Holiday (110)) but what they say means nothing, instead we as an audience are lost in the simple sound effects, the scene composition, the spewing blue liquid of a broken fish.  I found myself bored at first when watching these films, and I imagine anyone beaten down with the sort of slam-bam filmmaking of the US of A would be, but allow yourself to slide in to the world Tati creates.  It's not big and bold but nonetheless all-inclusive.  A slighty, silly bit of existence that might not make you laugh out loud, but will linger in your mind on the bus, on a walk, on the vertiginous edge of sleep.


Criterion Counsel:  Riding high after completing a film.  Trying to finish off Playtime (112) the third and last Tati film in the days to come.  Wish me luck ardent readers, I've needed it lately.  

Thursday, April 8, 2010

a forgotten behemoth

I stumbled upon a stack of somewhere between 80 and 100 laserdiscs yesterday.  Films that ranged from the seminal transfer of Snow White to the Brian DePalma's Nic Cage eye-roller Snake Eyes.  Quite honestly, I've barely searched through this pile of digital frisbees as the concept of laser discs was a brief flash in my eye somewhere around my freshmen year in high school.

But it makes me wonder?  Is there still a small handful of laserdisc enthusiasts out there drooling over a clean copy of Lost Boys?  Is this three hundred pound pile of oversized CD worth something to someone out there? 

Or maybe this distaste of laserdiscs is just another slew of misguided ageism.  Perhaps these hulking behemoths are truly the greatest, the sharpest, the best sound versions of these films, and I, already well on my way in to the wilds of DVD-dom by the time I even had the financial means to purchase a laserdisc, have unjustly dismissed them.  Perhaps I should be in the market for a device that will allow me to peruse these monstrous bits of filmic vinyl. 

Or perhaps I should throw a 1 dollar price tag on each and every one of them, stuff them in to a dirty cardboard box, and let someone who cares a little bit more indulge to their hearts content.

Thoughts film enthusiasts on laserdiscs and their ill-fated careers?


Criterion Counsel: The goings are rough.  Criterion Conquistador and I are planning to power through the remaining M. Hulot pictures this weekend.  But after a slew of evenings where I've nearly passed out standing, this is a bold claim.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

perhaps the worst thing i've ever seen

Is this the future of Hollywood?  Or perhaps this is the present and we're so deeply mired we can't get our head above water.

Either way, I share the pain of dancing CGI great danes with you my loyal readers.

Apologies for my sluggish forward momentum in terms of all things Criterion.  I'm in the midst of a new business venture and it is, to say the least, time consuming.

Now, pain.

bird's eye view

A bird's eye view of M. Hulot's ultra-modern abode (think The Jetson's but, well, French) in Mon Oncle (111) done by the painter Jacques Larange, a constant and vastly important collaborator with the late, great Jacques Tati.

There's a fantastic article about the collaborative process between the two men up on David Bordwell's blog.  A perusal is highly recommended.

Friday, April 2, 2010

I always suspected they were dreams.

 "It is the just reward for insomnia that I sleep most easily at the movies.  Why not? I always suspected they were dreams."

-  David Thomsen, The Guardian's resident film critic, speaks quite beautifully about snoozing during films in his massive and impressive book Have You Seen ... ?

Thursday, April 1, 2010

A very elegant dog.

"Some women would have done anything to have one of these dogs. They were distributed all over Paris. One settled down in the very chic Avenue du Bois. He was a very elegant dog. Another ended up with a little retired man in a suburban house in Asniere."

- Jacques Tati, director, on the dogs of Mon Oncle (111)