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.


criterion counsel: er, well, no.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010


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.  


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.


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.


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


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


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.


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."


Tuesday, June 8, 2010

excuses, they return

i've been pushing myself hard for the last week or so. writing and estate sale throwin' and socializing and working and trying amongst all of these things to find some sort of nook to crawl in to and sleep for a few moments.

things i have to do this month:

1. break down the home of a 85 year old woman who's been collecting, well everything for the the last mmmmmmmm forty years.

2. clean, price, and stage a new house full of antique chairs and coffee mills and clocks and other detritus of a life lived and loved.

3. write 1600 words on the chocolate scene and my adventures within it.

4. work four extra shifts.

5. prepare for a trip to chicago.

6. sleep, socialize, eat, watch and write movie reviews, continue the criterion quest ...

and on and on it goes.

so for today you just get an amazing video by the very talented drew christie.

Fire Fire I Heard The Cry from Drew Christie on Vimeo.

tomorrow, i've got more words on boycotts.


criterion counsel: this is just depressing me lately, so i'm going to give it a break.

Friday, June 4, 2010

watch this: goat v. gfos

as good but not better than no mas' other spectacular animation about dock ellis and his LSD assisted no-hitter.

this time muhammad ali battles james brown.

i quiver.


criterion counsel: getting there folks, getting there.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

they eat yogurt instead of pasta

don't know much about RSAnimated, but this enormous white-board retelling of a speech entitled "the secret power of time" blows my mind.  it brings me back to a PBS show that i can only think of in fragments.  one where a slightly creepy artist drew space ships on a giant piece of butcher paper.

any one got a title for this one?


criterion counsel: wow, my priorities are on a whole new planet.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010


"But when you keep rebooting and discarding continuity and starting over, you're not telling a story spread over several films.  You're just stuttering.  You're just using familiar iconography while running in place.  It is, quite frankly, pathetic.  And yet we stand here, all of us in this business, looking at the flames that keep getting higher and higher around us while we say nothing and do nothing and make no efforts to stop the ruin of this art form that we love.  We run these stories as news instead of dire warnings"

from perhaps my favorite film critic currently working, drew mcweeney.  not enough people can say it enough times in as many ways.