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.