Thursday, December 31, 2009

All About New Year's Eve (and what is forthcoming in 2010)

Well, as J.L. said, another year over and a new one just begun.  It is December 31st and 2009 is coming to a close.  As for that annual critic's tradition, I will be revealing my Top 10 List in less than a week.  Also coming soon will be the Best of the Decade List (as those who follow this blog know I have been counting down to the past few weeks).  As far as new reviews, or more precisely, reviews that I have been procrastinating on, they are coming too. In the next few weeks I will (finally) be publishing my reviews of Up in the Air, The Messenger, Bad Lieutenant, Precious, Invictus, Nine, A Single Man, Me & Orson Welles, A Town Called Panic, Fantastic Mr. Fox, Brothers, The Road, Red Cliff, Police Adjective, Still Walking, Broken Embraces, Crazy Heart, Mammoth and Avatar.  After that a fresh new start in 2010. Until then, Happy New Year and go watch the ball, strawberry, banana, heart, pickle, goat, cow, bow tie, apple, turtle, badger, kumquat or whatever one watches drop at midnight, because tonight is all about eve (get it?).  See you next year.

Sherlock Holmes Reviewed at The Vigilant Monkey

I went into this movie with absolutely no intentions of liking it.  Expecting to hate it actually.  I do like Robert Downey Jr. and I did enjoy Iron Man (he is playing essentially the same character here!? - just sans the armour overalls) but to think I could sit there for more than two hours and enjoy a Guy "Snatch" Ritchie movie???  A Guy "Lock, Stock & Two Freakin' Smoking Barrels" Ritchie movie?????  A Guy "RocknRolla" Ritchie movie??????  A Guy "Swept Away" Ritchie movie???????  Just ain't happenin' brothah.

But guess what?  I sat there for more than two hours and enjoyed a Guy Ritchie movie.  A Guy "Sherlock Holmes" Ritchie movie!!!!!  True, the arbitrary auteur's annoying filmmaking style is still quite intact but with the help of Tony Stark gone back in, I mean with the help of Robert Downey Jr. (and Jude Law), Ritchie's movie works - for the most part.  It still had the most mundane of villians and relied too heavily on CGI, but hey, just the fact that I sat there for more than two hours and enjoyed a Guy Ritchie movie should be enough of a victory.  Anyway, my review is over at The Vigilant Monkey (one of my three regular haunts outside of my own site). 

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Best of the Decade: Year 2005

Welcome to Part VI of the Best of the Decade Project.  Each few days I will name my choices for the best films of each particular year in the aforementioned decade.  This will culminate just after the new year with my list of the 50 greatest films of the decade.  So without further ado I give you my top ten for the year 2005.  

1. Brokeback Mountain (Ang Lee) 
2. The Wayward Cloud (Tsai Ming-liang) 
3. The New World (Terrence Malick)
4. A History of Violence (David Cronenberg)
5. Gabrielle (Patrice Chereau) 
6. The Death of Mr. Lazarescu (Cristi Puiu)
7. Battle in Heaven (Carlos Reygadas) 
8. Three Times (Hou Hsiao-hsien)
9. The Proposition (John Hillcoat)
10. Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story (Michael Winterbottom) 

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Julie & Julia (finally!) Reviewed at MovieZeal

I usually don't do DVD reviews (at least not since I had my own DVD column at a local alt monthly called Central Voice from 2004-2005, before having a falling out of sorts over the hack job edit they did on my Brokeback Mountain piece) but since I never bothered to review the movie when it originally came out (oh that darned procrastination) here I am writing a review of Julie & Julia on the release of the movie on DVD.  It is my eighth review written specifically for Luke Harrington's wonderful review site, MovieZeal.  

Best of the Decade: Year 2004

Welcome to Part V of the Best of the Decade Project.  Each few days I will name my choices for the best films of each particular year in the aforementioned decade.  This will culminate just after the new year with my list of the 50 greatest films of the decade.  So without further ado I give you my top ten for the year 2004.

1. 2046 (Wong Kar-wai)
2. Kill Bill: Vol. 2 (Quentin Tarantino) 
3. Before Sunset (Richard Linklater)
4. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (Michel Gondry) 
5. Dawn of the Dead (Zack Snyder)
6. Primer (Shane Carruth)
7. Birth (Jonathan Glazer)
8. Sideways (Alexander Payne)
9. Collateral (Michael Mann) 
10. Closer (Mike Nichols)

Friday, December 18, 2009

An Education Reviewed at MovieZeal

I first saw Lone Scherfig's An Education in NYC about a month or so ago.  Now, finally, it has made its way to Midtown Cinema here in Harrisburg.  I suppose that means it is about time for a published review - so here it is.  It is incidentally, my seventh review written for MovieZeal.  As far as the movie itself goes, it is a serious mood piece.  Well, a comic-serious mood piece, but whatever.  Scherfig has created something that is a stunning period-pitch set piece.  Designed with a unique flare that makes it seem both more real (an honest portrayal of late fifties/early sixties London) and more cinematic (it is a dreamlike fantasy world) than most movies of its ilk.  Granted, the film is let down a bit by Nick Hornby's loquacious yet cliche'd screenplay, but pulled up again by the central performance of Carey Mulligan as Jenny.  It's a role that could win this twenty-four year old newcomer an Academy Award for Best Actress.  But enough of that.  Read my review if you want any more.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Best of the Decade: Year 2003

Welcome to Part IV of the Best of the Decade Project.  Each few days I will name my choices for the best films of each particular year in the aforementioned decade.  This will culminate just after the new year with my list of the 50 greatest films of the decade.  So without further ado I give you my top ten for the year 2003.

1. Dogville (Lars von Trier)
2. Kill Bill: Vol. 1 (Quentin Tarantino)
3. Goodbye Dragon Inn (Tsai Ming-liang) 
4. The Dreamers (Bernardo Bertolucci) 
5. Mystic River (Clint Eastwood)
6. The Brown Bunny (Vincent Gallo)
7. The Triplets of Belleville (Sylvain Chomet)
8. Capturing the Friedmans (Andrew Jarecki)
9. Los Angeles Plays Itself (Thom Anderson) 
10. Elephant (Gus Van Sant)

Everybody's Fine Reviewed at The Vigilant Monkey

When was the last time you can remember seeing a new Robert De Niro movie that didn't make you cringe with a sort of fallen idol disappointment?  Been awhile, huh?  Other than his somewhat small role in The Good Shepherd a few years back, you pretty much have to go back more than a decade to his Jackie Brown, Wag the Dog, Heat & Cop Land days.  And don't even think of getting another Travis Bickle or Rupert Pupkin outta the man from Tribeca.  Sad really.  Very sad.  De Niro still seems to be the man he always has been, and his cinephilia is more than evident with his annual film festival, but his roles are shrinking and shrinking and shrinking some more.  Perhaps, to quote Norma Desmond, it's the pictures that got small.  Whatever it is, De Niro is at it again with the extremely mediocre Everybody's Fine.  My review can be read over at The Vigilant Monkey if you really care.  I've got to be honest and say I didn't really care while I was writing it.  The film wasn't good by any stretch of the imagination, but it also wasn't so bad as to incite wrath and ire.  But I suppose it must be done.  So here it is.  I heard one person, upon leaving the theater, say they now had to go home and get the bad taste out of his mouth by watching Taxi Driver.  Go ahead and read the review, but instead of seeing the film, go home and watch Taxi Driver instead.  To cleanse your own palette, instead of posting a shot from the questionable movie in question, I give you the poster from the original Italian version.  I haven't seen that film, but it must be better, right? 

Read my review of Everybody's Fine at The Vigilant Monkey.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Weighing in on the Rather Hum-Drum Globe Noms

My predictions (announced a day prior - and right below here if you were to scroll down just the teensiest little bit) were not that far off, and the ones I missed were pretty much my alternate choice(s) anyway.  Only Julia Roberts' Best Actress (Comedy or Musical) was a surprise (!?).  Glad to see all the love for Inglourious Basterds and The Hurt Locker.  Hope it holdsover for the Oscars.  The complete list of nominations can be viewed here.  Otherwise, just another day in predictability mode, but a pretty strong set of predictables.  The first woman director to win an Oscar is coming up boys, so look the fuck out.  And it would be an extra bit of fun to watch her beat out her ex-husband for that particular Oscar.  Who's king of the world now Jimmy!?  Now my only question is, when Christoph Lantz accepts his Golden Globe and Oscar later on, we he shout "That's-A-Bingo!!"?

Monday, December 14, 2009

Golden Globe Predictions

I suppose I should go and take a stab at predicting the Golden Globe noms which will be announced in the wee hours of Tuesday morning.  So here they are.  I have predicted five nominees in each category bjt the HPFA has gone with six on more than one occasion - which is where the alternate choices come in.   Of course some of them I maybe cheat a little by naming as many as four alternates. 

Best Picture (Drama)
  • An Education
  • The Hurt Locker
  • Up in the Air
  • Inglourious Basterds
  • Invictus
alt: Precious or The Last Station or Avatar 

Best Picture (Comedy or Musical)
  • Nine
  • Julie & Julia
  • It's Complicated
  • Sherlock Holmes
  • A Serious Man
alt: The Hangover or (500) Days of Summer 

Best Director
  • Kathryn Bigelow (The Hurt Locker)
  • Clint Eastwood (Invictus)
  • Quentin Tarantino (Inglourious Basterds)
  • Jason Reitman (Up in the Air)
  • James Cameron (Avatar)
alt: Lee Daniels (Precious) or Pedro Almadovar (Broken Embraces) 

Best Actor (Drama)
  • George Clooney (Up in the Air)
  • Morgan Freeman (Invictus)
  • Jeremy Renner (The Hurt Locker)
  • Jeff Bridges (Crazy Heart)
  • Colin Firth (A Single Man)
alt: Johnny Depp (Public Enemies) or Toby Maguire (Brothers) 

Best Actress (Drama)
  • Carey Mulligan (An Education)
  • Gabourey Sidibe (Precious)
  • Sandra Bullock (The Blind Side)
  • Helen Mirren (The Last Station)
  • Michelle Pfieffer (Cheri)
alt: Emily Blunt (The Young Victoria) or Abbie Cornish (Bright Star) or Audrey Tautou (Coco Before Chanel) or Hilary Swank (Amelia) 

Best Actor (Comedy or Musical)
  • Daniel Day-Lewis (Nine)
  • Robert Downey Jr. (Sherlock Holmes)
  • Matt Damon (The Informant!)
  • Michael Stuhlbarg (A Serious Man)
  • Joseph Gordon-Levitt (500 Days of Summer)
alt: Sacha Baron Cohen (Bruno) or Bradley Cooper (The Hangover) 

Best Actress (Comedy or Musical)
  • Marion Cotillard (Nine)
  • Meryl Streep (Julie & Julia)
  • Zooey Deschanel (500 Days of Summer)
  • Sandra Bullcok (The Proposal)
  • Meryl Streep (It's Complicated)
alt: Katherine Heigl (The Ugly Truth) or Amy Adams (Julie & Julia) 

Best Supporting Actor
  • Christoph Waltz (Inglourious Basterds)
  • Alfred Molina (An Education)
  • Stanley Tucci (Julie & Julia or The Lovely Bones)
  • Matt Damon (Invictus)
  • Woody Harrelson (The Messenger)
alt: Alec Baldwn (It's Complicated) or Christopher Plummer (The Last Station) 

Best Supporting Actress
  • Mo'Nique (Precious)
  • Penelope Cruz (Nine)
  • Anna Kendrick (Up in the Air)
  • Julianne Moore (A Single Man)
  • Melanie Laurent (Inglourious Basterds)
alt: Vera Farmiga (Up in the Air) or Natalie Portman (Brothers) 

Best Screenplay
  • Up in the Air
  • The Hurt Locker
  • Inglourious Basterds
  • Precious
  • An Education
alt: The Messenger or A Serious Man or The Last Station 

Best Foreign Film
  • Broken Embraces
  • The White Ribbon
  • Coco Before Chanel
  • A Prophet
  • Lebanon
Best Animated Film
  • Fantastic Mr. Fox
  • Up
  • Ponyo
  • Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs
  • Coraline
That's my line-up.  Taking a bit of a chance with not nominating Precious and I can't help but name Melanie Laurent for Supporting Actress.  We'll see Tuesday morning...

Friday, December 11, 2009

Best of the Decade: Year 2002

Welcome to Part III of the Best of the Decade Project.  Each few days I will name my choices for the best films of each particular year in the aforementioned decade.  This will culminate just after the new year with my list of the 50 greatest films of the decade.  So without further ado I give you my top ten for the year 2002.

1. Russian Ark (Aleksandr Sokurov)
2. City of God (Fernando Meirelles)
3. Irreversible (Gasper Noe) 
4. Talk to Her (Pedro Almodovar)
5. 28 Days Later (Danny Boyle)  
6. Far From Heaven (Todd Haynes)
7. Gerry (Gus Van Sant)
8. Punch Drunk Love (Paul Thomas Anderson)
9. Femme Fatale (Brian De Palma)
10. Gangs of New York (Martin Scorsese)

Friday, December 4, 2009

My Quest To See the 1000 Greatest: The Last Picture Show (1971)

The Last Picture Show is #567 in  
My Quest to watch the 1000 Greatest Films 

Screened 11/25/09 at Midtown Cinema, on DVD from Netflix

Ranked #269 on TSPDT
Watching this film on the big screen for the first time (though unfortunately on a DVD and not the obviously preferable 35mm) was a delight I never expected.  Though enjoying his cinephiliac writings, I have never been a big fan of Bogdanovich as a filmmaker.  Only seeing his mid to later work, I was unaware of the stark beauty of this particular film.  Mask and Cat's Meow, though both having their good points do not a favourite director make.  So after years and years of pretty much ignoring The Last Picture Show, I finally sat down and watched it.  My reaction?  Wow!

Shot in black & white - Bogdanovich, afraid the studio would not let him film it this way, claims it was Orson Welles who made him talk the studio into filming as such - the film relays the era (1951-52) with a naturalness that makes you almost forget it wasn't actually made at that time.  This sharp black & white also adds to both the deep focus Bogdanovich wanted to work with as well as the starkness of this dead end Texas town that is the setting for Larry McMurtry's book and screenplay.

Filmed in the actual town McMurtry grew up in and wrote about, The Last Picture Show was made in the midst of the most raucous cinematic revolution ever, and at first glance, with its classic style and visual imagery, may seem quite out of place, yet it couldn't have been more revolutionary.  Styled as a sort of classicism that makes it seem out of time, more attuned to fifties Hollywood cinema, yet at the same time a frank (especially for 1970) look at sexual mores that give the film a shocking streak throughout.

This sexual frankness of course brings us to the heart of the film - or perhaps the g-spot - Cybill Shepherd as Jacy Farrow.  Making her film debut (after being found on the cover of a magazine by Bogdanovich's wife) Shepherd is a sizzling sexual beast, able to lure in and then destroy any young man she so wishes.  The most prominent being the director himself - an irony made even more ironic considering who discovered the young model-cum-starlet in the first place.

Perhaps Bogdanovich is one of those filmmaker's who spent their creative abilities early (I still must see Targets, What's Up, Doc? and Daisy Miller) and are left flailing in mediocrity later in their careers.  This idea seems to be magnified by the fact that the only theatrically released movie made by Bogdanovich in the past decade was the mildly well received Cat's Meow.  And speaking of later Bogdanovich, I have yet to see Texasville, the nineteen years in the making sequel to The Last Picture Show, but not much good has been heard about it.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Best of the Decade: Year 2001

Welcome to Part II of the Best of the Decade Project.  Each few days I will name my choices for the best films of each particular year in the aforementioned decade.  This will culminate just after the new year with my list of the 50 greatest films of the decade.  So without further ado I give you my top ten for the year 2001. 

1. Mulholland Dr. (David Lynch)
2. Y Tu Mama, Tambien (Alfonso Cuaron)
3. The Royal Tanenbaums (Wes Anderson)
4. Moulin Rouge (Baz Luhrmann) 
5. Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner (Zacharias Kunuk)
6. Spirited Away (Hayao Miyazaki)
7. Late Marriage (Dovar Kosashvili) 
8. The Piano Teacher (Michael Haneke)
9. The Son's Room (Nanni Moretti) 
10. Gosford Park (Robert Altman)

Saturday, November 28, 2009

The Sun Reviewed at Gone Cinema Poaching

I first saw Sokurov's melancholy biopic on Hirohito waaaaay back at the 2005 New York Film Festival.  Good thing too, as it would not be until just this past week that the film would see an American release.  Since making The Sun, the Russian auteur has made and released Alexandria.  It debuted in the US in 2008 - less than a year after making its international debut.  All the while The Sun sat upon the shelf - at least as far as the US market went.  It has seen a run in theaters in Greece, Italy, France, The Netherlands, Japan and Brazil.  But never here in the good ole USofA.  That is until now.  November 18, 2009 to be exact.  Opening at Film Forum in NYC, The Sun is finally among us.  My review of said film can be read over at Gone Cinema Poaching.  It is my third review for Chazz Lyons wonderful website.  I will soon be contributing to GCP's Best of the Decade project - so keep an eye out for that as well. 

Friday, November 27, 2009

Best of the Decade: Year 2000

This is the first of a series of posts that will commemorate the decade that was (or will soon be was!?).  Each few days I will name my choices for the best films of each particular year in the aforementioned decade that will soon be a was.  This will culminate just after the new year with my list of the 50 greatest films of the decade.  So without further ado I give you the year 2000.

1. In the Mood For Love (Wong Kar Wai)
2. Werckmeister Harmonies (Bela Tarr)
3. Memento (Christopher Nolan)
4. Requiem For A Dream (Darren Aronofsky)
5. Dancer in the Dark (Lars von Trier)
6. American Psycho (Mary Harron)
7. Amores perros (Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu)
8. The Heart of the World (Guy Maddin) 
9. Yi Yi (Edward Yang) 
10. O Brother, Where Art Thou? (Joel & Ethan Coen)

Monday, November 23, 2009

My Quest To See the 1000 Greatest: Pepe le Moko (1937)

Pepe le Moko is #566 on  
My Quest to watch The 1000 Greatest Films 

Screened 11/09/09 on DVD from GreenCine

Ranked #519 on TSPDT

Though it has been remade several times (both loosely and straightforwardly so) and was highly influential on Michael Curtiz when he made his Academy Award winning classic Casablanca just a few years later, and (of course) was referenced by Jean Luc Godard (via Jean Paul Belmondo) in Pierrot le fou, once the Nouvelle Vague and Cahiers du Cinema brought such forgotten films and filmmakers back into vogue, possibly Pepe le Moko's most enduring (and widest spread) legacy can be seen in the namesake rapscallious and somewhat odoriferous classic Looney Tunes Character of Pepe le Pew. 

That particular extracurricular cartoonish anomaly aside, Julian Duvivier's pre-noir noirish film about a French thief and all about roue, running around the Casbah, evading the police and the informants but not the ladies, though perhaps seen as a bit racist in hindsight when it comes to the portrayal of the Casbah and its residents, is a classic of poetic realism (which was after all a stylistic precursor to film noir) that was in itself a precursor to a whole slice of film history.  This may seem a bit on the overdramatic side but nonetheless, in this critic's eyes, it is a true statement.  And a fellow critic may very well agree with me.  In his essay for the Criterion release of Pepe le Moke, Michael Atkinson wrote thus: "Without its iconic precedent there would have been no Humphrey Bogart, no John Garfield, no Robert Mitchum, no Randolph Scott, no Jean-Paul Belmondo (or Breathless or Pierrot le fou), no Jean-Pierre Melville or Alain Delon, no Steve McQueen, no Chinatown, no Bruce Willis, no movie-star heritage of weathered cool, vulnerable nihilism, bruised masculinity-as-cultural syndrome." 

I couldn't have said it better myself.  I was actually trying to verbalize this very point when I came across the Atkinson essay and he did it for me.  Pepe le Moko is, at the very least, one of the catalysts for all the aforementioned film history that was to follow.  Along with films such as early Hollywood Fritz Lang and von Sternberg, Duvivier's exotic thriller is what made noir possible, and in turn everything which has spawned from noir's own dark underbelly.  In fact, the novel on which Pepe is based was in turn inspired by Howard Hawks' Scarface.  Perhaps film history is all one viscous circle - much like the winding alleyways of the Casbah itself.  How's that for a segue?  

This spectacular spiraling camera of Duvivier is like a whirling dervish breaking free of the poetic realism it finds itself mired - for good or for bad - inside of, yet it is Pepe himself, the wonderful and quite prolific actor Jean Gabin, that makes this visually attractive film blossom into the full fledged sexy beast that it is.  To quote Michael Atkinson again (from the same Criterion written essay as above) in describing Gabin, he says he is "almost Garbo-like in his ability to anchor our attention without moving a muscle."  It is Gabin's stoic realism, twinged with an almost anti-sentimental sentimentalism (that makes sense, right?) that is the heart, the core, of Duvivier's film.  Incidentally, Gabin would go on to roles in Grand Illusion, Port of Shadows, Daybreak and Moontide but his career would slow down with the advent of WWII, where he would work with the Resistance. The rest, I suppose, is history.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Pirate Radio Reviewed at The Cinematheque

It was called The Boat That Rocked when it first opened in the UK.  Now its name has been changed (I personally liked the UK title much better) and nearly twenty minutes have been excised from the running time (mostly the parts that fleshed out characters and gave a certain amount of depth to the rather light-hearted story).  Welcome to America Pirate Radio.  Still though, truncated or not (I certainly prefer the UK version, now out on DVD across the pond) the film still manages to elicit a boatload of fun.  And yes, that very bad pun is used by one character in the movie.  And what a killer diller soundtrack.  Rock & Roll people, Rock & Roll indeed.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

35 Shots of Rum Reviewed at Gone Cinema Poaching

My second review written specifically for the website Gone Cinema Poaching is for the film 35 Shots of Rum, directed by French provocatress Claire Denis.  I caught the film at Film Forum waaaay back in late September (a side trip from the NYFF screenings) and am only now writing the review.  Rather late, but hey, here it is now so get over it.  Anyway, as I said, this is my second review for GCP and there will be more to come.  I am excited to have another outlet to write for - new readers and all that jazz.  I will be doing a review for the most recent Aleksandr Sokurov movie to be released stateside, The Sun.  Talk about me being late with reviews, the Sokurov film debuted at the NYFF waaaaaaaay back in 2005 and is just now being released in the US.  The Russian has made several films since The Sun, including 2007's Alexandria which opened in the US nearly two years prior to this film.  So never call me late again dammit.  After The Sun (prob. posting on GCP sometime this week-end or early next week) I will be writing a piece on Almadovar's latest, Broken Embraces and (hopefully) Richard Linklater's new film, Me and Orson Welles (if anyone could get me a screener that would be fantastically appreciated).  I am also going to be taking part in GCP's Best of the Decade Project, counting down til the new year.  I will be doing pieces on Sofia Coppola's Marie Antoinette and Robert Altman's The Company as well as possibly a piece on Brian De Palma and his four films from the past decade.  So with all that said (and I suppose I did ramble a bit) I am going to go now and get to work on much of what I just rambled on about.   

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

A Look Back at the Decade That Was

Beginning next week I will launch my look back at the cinematic decade that was.  Beginning with the year 2000 (sorry all you 2001 decade purists - I am beginning with 2000) and moving on through the aughts, I will talk about the best films of each particular year.  This will all lead up to the revelation of my list of the best of 2009, sometime in the first week of 2010 (since I missed out on the NYFF screening, I am holding off until I am able to see Michael Haneke's The White Ribbon - a likely addition to the list).  After this I will reveal my Best of the Decade list (January 12ish).

The main thing about doing such a project is fitting the correct films into the correct years.  My annual Best of lists go by US release but with this I will revert all films back into their proper original release date.  With that said, obviously some of these upcoming yearly looks back will not exactly coincide with some of my past Best of lists.  Some films may change in rank from these said Best of lists as well, due to a reevaluation of some of them.  I know several films (De Palma's Black Dahlia and Bertolucci's The Dreamers to name the most severe cases) have risen much higher in my esteem than they first did.  Anyway, I suppose this is neither here nor there - everything is an anomaly anyway, so why fight it.  These lists will be what these lists are - no more, no less. 

Year 2000 will be coming on November 24th, and if you were thinking the below picture is a hint to what the number one of the decade is...very close, but not quite.

Monday, November 16, 2009

A Serious Man Reviewed at The Cinematheque

After building the Coen Brothers' A Serious Man (in my capacity as manager and projectionist of our local arthouse Midtown Cinema) I sat down and watched the brothers' fourteenth film all by my lonesome.  At first glance I wasn't sure what to make of this strangely curious little film.  Yes, the Coens' are usually purveyors of strangely curious little films, but this one was strangely curious in a completely different way.  Don't ask how, just go with me here.  Anyway, after contemplating it for a while, by the time I went to bed that night (about 2 hours after finishing the film) I was won over by this strangely curious little film.  Perhaps not their best (Fargo and No Country For Old Men hold those spots) but pretty darn close.  In that Coenesque second tier realm of Miller's Crossing, Raising Arizona, Blood Simple, Barton Fink and The Big Lebowski.  A strangely curious little film indeed.

Read my review of A Serious Man at The Cinematheque.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The Maid Reviewed at MovieZeal

I got to see a screening of The Maid by sheer happenstance.  I was attending the NYFF when I was told of a screening of Police, Adjective over at Magno (just near Times Square) and once I watched the latest in the so-called Romanian Ne Wave (or Black Wave if you will) I was about to leave for The Village and a showing of 35 Shots of Rum (being reviewed by your humble narrator very soon over at Gone Cinema Poaching - but more on that later) when I decided to see what else was screening that night at Magno.  Lo and behold it was the Chilean black comedy The Maid.  I didn't really have super high hopes for the film (though I didn't expect disaster either) but I stayed anyway and was quite happy I did.  A charming little film, but charming in the most peculiar way - sort of the same way Chas. Adams' or Edward Gorey's old comics were.  I've reviewed the film for MovieZeal (my sixth piece for that outlet) so go there and read it (if you care enough to do the heavy work of clicking the link below).

1948 in New York City (cinematically speaking that is)

Okay, it's actually 2009.  November 7, 2009 to be exact, but it felt as if I were transported back to 1948.  Why, you ask?  Well, I'll tell you.  The two films that - by large margin - hold the top spots in my list of the best films of 1948 were playing on the same day in the same city and this avid - or should I say rabid - cinephile (damn those who say the term is long out of vogue!) was able to see both films on the big screens of two Manhattan art houses.

The first was Vittorio De Sica's The Bicycle Thief, playing at Lincoln Plaza Cinema.  As the black and white print popped and hissed and stuttered a bit at times - as old 35mm prints are apt to do - the nearly sold out crowd laughed, gasped and awed at what is undoubtedly one of the greatest films ever made.  I had never seen the film on anything larger than a 40 some inch TV and it was an amazing feeling to do so.  To watch poor Antonio desperately searching for his stolen bicycle, and thus his very livelihood, was a strange melange of heartbreak and cinephiliac giddiness.  But we were just getting started.

As I boarded the D train bound for The Village and then proceeded to make my way down Sixth Ave toward Houston and in turn, Film Forum, my heart began racing a bit.  Then a bit more.  And then a bit more.  It may sound ridiculous and quite dramatic (I do have a penchant for the overdramatic at times) but I was shaking with some weird sort of uber-anticipation as I drew closer and closer to the cinema.  And there it was on the marquee - Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger's The Red Shoes.  

Lucky for me I had bought my ticket online the night before because as I entered the cinema the glaring, somewhat obnoxious sign read 7:00 show sold out.  Shortly after this the even more obnoxious sign went up reading 9:45 show sold out.  It was great to see so much interest in The Red Shoes (as damn well there should be!) but if I hadn't already had ticket in hand I would have probably dropped to my knees right there on Houston and wept like a child.  In fact the picture below of the lovely Moira Shearer would have been my reaction if I had not already procured my golden ticket.  I did tell you I had a penchant for the overdramatic.

So, to get back to my story of cinephiliac glory (overdramatic again), I entered the very crowded theatre - about eleven minutes prior to showtime - and took my seat in the front row.  Legs outstretched and head resting on my seatback, the lights went down and the projector motor whirred from the back of the theatre.  After a trailer for the soon-to-be-released 35mm restoration of M. Hulot's Holiday (opening at Film Forum on 11/20) The Red Shoes began and I (overdramatizing once again) was in Heaven.

Martin Scorsese called The Red Shoes, "The greatest technicolor film ever made." and I whole heartedly agree with the great filmmaker and fellow cinephile.  This was going to be the closest thing to a religious experience this semi-agnostic, ordained minister (yes, I really am) has ever had.  The vivid blues and reds and greens and yellows were mesmerizing as I stared in wonder at the glowing screen.  By the end, my legs and back (and yes, my buttocks) were aching but it mattered not for I was able to watch the effervescent, the gorgeous, the remarkable Moira Shearer dance her dance all the way to what is probably the greatest (and most tragic) finale a movie has ever had.

With cinephiliac orgasm in tow, I left Film Forum and made my way home - after a quick bite with my lovely wife Amy and her friend Molly - and dreamt of the greatest technicolor film ever made.  Fin.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Paris Reviewed at Gone Cinema Poaching

I can now add yet another outlet to my ever-growing publishing empire.  Myahahahhahahahha (maniacal evil laugh!).  Seriously though, I am now a regular writer for the wonderful cinema blog, run by Chazz Lyons, Gone Cinema Poaching,   I will be doing regular weekly reviews as well as occasional editorial pieces and will chime in at other times as well (including a best-of-the-decade project going on over there throughout the rest of the year).

My first review is for the Cedric Klapisch film, Paris.  The film has gotten some ill will - some calling it sappy and trite - and some of this criticism is warranted - the film is more a work of love and adoration than of cinematic bravura (though there is some visually stunning set pieces and I don't mean just Juliette Binoche and Melanie Laurent) - but overall I believe the film is the strongest work the director has yet done.  A playful, loving film which weaves and intersects the way an Altman film does and it momentarily stimulates before moving on to its next subject and next subplot and subtext.  Quite exhilarating actually - even if it is a bit sappy and/or maudlin at times. 

Read my review of Paris at Gone Cinema Poaching.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Antichrist Reviewed at The Cinematheque

When I first saw Antichrist (a Lars von Trier film!!) at this year's NYFF, the press screening was punctuated with a plethora of hisses and guffaws.  Why do people hate this movie so?   Beats me.  Sure it's pretentious and condescending and pretty fucking arrogant, but c'mon guys, it is Lars von Trier afterall - what the Hell did you expect!?  Anyway, I think the film is brilliant, not in spite of its pretentiousness and/or arrogance, but because of it.  Bravo you mad mocking maestro you.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Almost back, but a sidenote first...

I know this is not cinema related but I had to share (and this is a very bold statement considering) the best NY Post cover EVER.  Here it is.

Anyway, Go Yankees, and I will be returning to my regular critical duties sometime in the next few days.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Be Back Soon.....

Off the proverbial radar for this week and week-end.  Will return Tuesdayish with reviews of Antichrist, Where The Wild Things Are, Amelia, The Baader Meinhof Complex, Law Abiding Citizen, Still Walking, as well as my contribution to The Italian Horror Blog-a-Thon over at Hugo Stiglitz Makes Movies, a blog review of Coppola's misbegotten and miopic mini-masterpiece (sorta!?) One From The Heart (which I have finally seen, my thoughts on Kiss Me Stupid (a contribution to The Oldest Established Really Important Film Club over at Illusions Travel by Streetcar), my last (kinda late) report from this year's NYFF on their fantastic Guru Dutt retrospective and much much much more.  Okay, this won't all be arriving the second I return, but it is all coming next week.

And one more thing before I go:  GO YANKEES!!!

Monday, October 19, 2009

Bright Star Reviewed at MovieZeal

Jane Campion is one of the most delectable filmmakers working today.  In much the same vein as Michael Powell or Nick Ray or Peter Greenaway, Campion's films are likely to devour you with their visual sensuality and deeply textured romanticism.  With this as my prefacing thought, I sat down and watched the auteur's seventh film, Bright Star.  My views were not changed.  Bright Star is a tragically gorgeous work of cinematic art.  I may sound a bit pretentious but to hell with whatever one may think.  It's my party and I'll cry pretentious if I want to.  You can't stop me.  Anyway, the film is sensual and beautiful and you should check out my review (my fifth review for the website MovieZeal) to read many more pretentious bon mots about the film. 

Read my Review of Bright Star at MovieZeal.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Johnny Guitar (Nicholas Ray, 1954)

"There was theatre (Griffith), poetry (Murnau), painting (Rossellini), dance (Eisenstein), music (Renoir). Henceforward there is cinema. And the cinema is Nicholas Ray." - Jean-Luc Godard

I watched Johnny Guitar last night and all I have to say is - let the gushing begin.  Seriously, Johnny Guitar is what cinema was and still should be.  Combining Ray's unique talent for visually luscious filmmaking with a genre redefining of the western - Ray's film can be quite ambiguous when it comes to who is wearing the white hat and who the black - dialogue that is beautifully over the top and a not-so-veiled stand against McCarthyism and Hollywood blacklisting.  And on top of all that - Joan Freakin' Crawford!

The film that Truffaut once called "Hallucinatory Cinema", Johnny Guitar is almost magical in its approach to what film is (and again, still should be).   Watching it on the big screen (as I finally did after years of adoring it sitting on my couch in my living room) one is mesmerized by each and every frame of this sexy, delicious, ravenous piece of film history.  Nary a false note is heard - a thing that can be said of only about six or seven films of the thousands and thousands and thousands ever made.  And on top of all that - Joan Freakin' Crawford!

Derek Malcolm of The Guardian said of the film, "This baroque and deliriously stylised Western, along with Fritz Lang's Rancho Notorious and Raoul Walsh's Pursued, proves it is possible to lift the genre into the realms of Freudian analysis, political polemic and even Greek tragedy."  Amen brother.

Other westerns of the time delve deeper than the typical genre-specific Hopalong Cassidy territory of the earlier mode - The Searchers is a Freudian masterpiece for sure and the films of Anthony Mann (and to a lesser degree Budd Boetticher) have stretched the ideas of right and wrong to whole other ballparks - but it was/is Johnny Guitar that puts them all to shame, not only in its sheer gorgeousness of set, costume and photography, its brilliantly subversive screenplay ("written" by Philip Yordan as a front for blacklisted writer Ben Maddow) and/or its richly textured (and verging on camp) performances but also in its power to transcend even the very cinema Godard spoke of and become one with the gods so to speak.  Hey, I told you I was going to gush!

And on top of all that - Joan Freakin' Crawford!  A comeback of sorts, Johnny Guitar, no matter how masculine the western genre typically is, is whole heartedly Joan's picture to win or lose.  The film's tagline reads: "Gun-Queen of the Arizona Frontier ! . . . and her kind of men !!!"   The auteur theory aside for a moment - after all this is really Nick Ray's picture to win or lose - it was Crawford who bought the rights to the novel by Roy Chanslor and put the whole kit and kaboodle in motion in the first place and it was Crawford who was taking a chance on reinventing herself.

Derek Malcolm (again) said of Crawford, "What she does in the film transcends either camp or melodrama. It's like watching a legend at work throwing off her previous baggage and gaining a new acting skin."  Perhaps this was the last of her great pictures (though her bloody duet with gal pal Bette Davis a few years later may beg to differ) but nonetheless, Malcolm's words ring true.  We won't even bother going into her on set feud with costar Mercedes McCambridge (wasn't there always one of these?) or the divaesque insistence on having all her close-ups filmed in studio where the lighting could be better staged.  After all, it's Joan Freakin' Crawford - what would one expect?

Sure, there may be flaws (you didn't think I could really be uncritical did you?) but someone once said (it may have been Truffaut, not sure) that every movie has flaws and it is in these flaws that is born something special.  Okay, I may have made that up, who knows, but it is something to believe in. Film lovers are sick people (Truffaut really did say that!) and that can be proven in the fact that we, the aforementioned sick film lovers, can love a film not in spite of its flaws and blemishes but because of them.  Sick.

But for now, let's forget all the critical and analytical mumbo jumbo and end on a much simpler note.  To quote Johnny Guitar himself (see, it's not all about Joan after all) - "There`s only two things in this world that a real man needs.  A cup of coffee and a good smoke."  Fin.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Whip It Reviewed at The Cinematheque

I suppose one shouldn't expect the world from a coming-of-age roller derby movie directed by Drew Barrymore, and in fact, the world is exactly what we do not get with Whip It.  Yet, from its somewhat Godardian opening title, the film was already giving more than this critic expected.  Quite fun and full of a slew of amiably bravura performances - especially from Juliette Lewis and Marcia Gay Harden - Whip It actually managed to surprise me a bit.  

My review - at my main site, The Cinematheque - mentions (or perhaps harps on) the fact that there is absolutely nothing new in Whip It.  What you see is what you get.  But the performances, as well as a certain genre giddiness, make the film worth more than the sum of its parts.  Or would that be the sum of its parts are greater than the whole?  Who knows...

Zombieland Reviewed at The Vigilant Monkey

It was delayed a few weeks due to some computer issues over at Vigilant Monkey, but here it is - my review of Zombieland.  Fun and frivolous - full of bloody popcorny laughs - but overall a little less than what one would hope for from the genre.  Perhaps movies such as 28 Days (and Weeks) Later, Shaun of the Dead, Zack Snyder's Dawn remake and (of course) the original Romero classics (and his newer work - his Land of the Dead got unfairly maligned by critics!) have raised the bar a bit higher than Zombieland can jump, but a fun ride nonetheless.  Plus, to watch Bill Murray - even for just five minutes - is worth any price of admission you would be worried about.

The Red Shoes Coming to Film Forum

When future generations, or perhaps when alien lifeforms come to Earth, a hundred, a thousand, a million years from now and ask, "what is music?", we will play for them Beethoven's Ninth Symphony.  When they ask, "what is art?", we will show them Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel.  When they ask, "what is poetry?", we will read to them from Elizabeth Barrett Browning's Sonnets from the Portuguese.  When these future travelers ask us, "what is cinema?", we will show them The Red Shoes.

Perhaps a bit on the overdramatic flair side of things, but one can not be expected to hold back when faced with the opportunity to see one of the greatest films ever made on the big screen - and in a restored 35mm print at that.  Scorsese called the Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger film the most beautiful technicolor film ever made - and he ain't kiddin' boy.  And now here it is, coming to Film Forum for a two week run November 6 - 19, so excuse the hyperbole.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The Informant! is Reviewed at The Cinematheque

Okay, okay, I'm really late on this one.  I saw the film waaay back on September 20th and here I am on Oct 13th finally posting my review (that I actually wrote on October 3rd - but who's counting?).  So sue me, I procrastinate.  Anyway, the film in question is Steven Soderbergh's The Informant! (exclamation point by auteur!).  Sort of a formalist experiment, Soderbergh's new film is yet another different avenue the eclectic auteur has taken in his career.  An experiment many have not well enjoyed it would seem.  One woman, upon leaving the theatre, was overheard by my lovely wife commenting on how she did not like Matt Damon in the movie.  "Why does he have to look like that?  Why can't he just look like himself?" was her query.  Ummm, he's an actor and he's playing a character?  Actually the film has been blown off by many critics and regulars alike, but there is no need to talk on the subject here when my review is anxiously waiting over at The Cinematheque.  

Read my review of The Informant! at The Cinematheque.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

NYFF 2009: Chadi Abdel Salam's Al Mummia

Now I know that when it comes to cinema there is more (much much more) that I have NOT seen than I have.  Glaring omissions in my film history knowledge.  Filmmakers such as De Sica (Bicycle Thief, one of my favourite films, aside), early Ozu and Douglas Sirk immediately come to mind.  So much to see and only a finite space to do so, but I am trying my damnest to catch up.  There are those filmmakers I know a lot about - Godard, Fellini, Nick Ray, Chaplin - and others I could write a book on - like my upcoming book on the cinema of William Wellman (would be publishers please take note) - but still the inevitable gaps are still there.  Recently discovering Dorothy Arzner and Glauber Rocha, and about to go round the bend on Guru Dutt, I am filling these gaps nicely.

Yet even knowing my shortcomings, and knowing there are films I must still see and study, sometimes, and quite unexpectedly, comes along a film discovery that blows one's proverbial mind.  A couple years ago it was Charles Burnett's sublime neorealist urban tragedy Killer of Sheep.  Today it is Chadi Abdel Salam's Al Mummia (The Night of Counting the Years, aka The Mummy).   The film, made in 1969, is considered one of the greatest Egyptian films ever made.  Another notable gap in my personal film history knowledge is Egyptian Cinema by the way.  The film was recently beautifully restored by the Cineteca di Bologna in conjunction with Martin Scorsese's World Cinema Foundation, and made its (re)debut at this year's Cannes Film Festival.  Richard Pena's praising piece in Film Comment over the Summer made it an almost sure thing that it would put in an appearance at this year's NYFF - and here it is, in all its glory.

Telling the story of a tribe living in the shadow of Egypt's past and the waning days of antiquity the film is a marvel to experience.  The movie follows two brothers, members of the Hurabat tribe and would be heirs to the tribe's throne.  After their father's death they find out that the tribe has been surviving by secretly selling antiquities from desecrated Pharaonic tombs. This arrogant piracy by the elders of the tribe shames the brothers, and they refuse to take part, putting their lives in dire jeopardy from the elders of the tribe.  

Filmed primarily at either dawn or dusk, Salam's film takes on an almost ethereal quality.  The photography, with its stunning heightened colouring and muted palette, along with the subtle editing and meandering, yet quickened pace gives the film a visual mythology all its own.  Blending the past with the present (at least the present of the film's 1890's setting), Al Mummia is like an ancient artifact unearthed from its own long buried tomb and given its day in the light only to have its public mystified by its almost unearthly strangeness.

One can only hope that the film will see more light of the day - or dark of the theatre I suppose - when it gets a release later this year or next.  Hope hope hoping.

Anticipating the Italian Horror Blog-a-Thon

Seasonal happenings are going on over at Hugo Stiglitz Makes Movies - or at least they will be soon.  Kevin J. Olson, the fine proprietor of that fine cinematic blog will be hosting the Italian Horror Blog-a-thon starting October 19 and running through til All Hallows Eve.  The basic idea is to watch and discuss the best (and worst!) of the Italian Horror genre.  

I am looking forward to discussing such films as Bava's Bay of Blood and Black Sunday and the super stylized films of Argento.  There are also many films of this ilk I have not yet seen - an oversight I shall remedy this month.  All links to those participating in the Blog-a-thon, along with my own contributions, will be posted here at The Most Beautiful Fraud in the World, beginning October 19. 

Friday, October 9, 2009

Peter and Vandy Reviewed at MovieZeal

Over at MovieZeal you can read my latest review.  It's for the teeny tiny indie film Peter and Vandy.  Overall the film is getting either dissed or dismissed by most critics.  I seem to be one of the few who didn't totally write it off.  Taglined with "a love story told out of order" and debuting at Sundance just hours after the similarly styled (500) Days of Summer, the film has perhaps gotten some unfair criticisms. 

Sure, the film is far from perfect and it seems a bit lazy at times, but Jason Ritter and Jess Weixler make it work in their most lackadaisical way.  A disarming movie - not as hip as (500) Days nor as gut-wrenching as Flannel Pajamas (its two closest relatives) - and if nothing else, a charmingly low rent experimentation in cinematic rhythm.  Ah well, I am used to being off center in my likes and dislikes (the oft-critically-maligned, or at the very least, loved-or-hated - nothing inbetween - Watchmen, Tetro and Antichrist are all on my top ten list for the year).

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Three New Reviews at The Cinematheque

Two Germans and an Italian walk into this blog.  No this isn't some strangely timecentric joke from a Tarantino film, it is a listing of my three latest reviews posted over at The Cinematheque.  

First up is the German film Cloud 9 (my review can be read here).  You know, the one about old people having sex.  This sexagenarian love triangle movie may set off a sort of ick factor in many viewers, especially in today's youth-driven market, but truth be told, it is a rather intensely tragic love story - no matter the age.  It is able to hold its own - and then some - against any of the so-called romances coming out of Hollywood lo these many years.

Second up is another German film but this time the praise isn't quite so high.  Well-meaning and quite controversial (and I usually love such a thing) is this new comedy about Hitler and the Holocaust.  Mein Fuhrer (my review can be read here), an audacious mineshaft of a movie, is the first German-born comedy on the subject.  It is not nearly as heinous as Roberto Begnini's reprehensible Life is Beautiful but that didn't stop it being denounced by many for its touchy subject matter.  As far as I am concerned, if anything, the film did not go far enough.  Director Dani Levy had a chance to push the envelope so to speak and create a groundbreaking film (the two leads are more than capable of pulling it off as well) but instead took the (semi) safe route and chickened out.

As for the Italian in our little threesome here, Paolo Sorrentino's Il Divo (my review can be read here) is a Kubrickian anti-biopic about Italian Prime Minister Giulio Andreotti - one of the most feared men in all of Italian political history.  Loud and brash, Il Divo plays as arrogant antithesis to the typical biopic clogging up the multiplex waves every Oscar season.  The film also acts as an orgasm of art in a way - exploding its political fable all over its audience in a cataclysmic eruption of cinematic chutzpah.  Take that!