Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Mother and Child Reviewed at The Cinematheque

I have to admit I went into this film with thoughts of Lifetime/Hallmark channel sugarplums dancing in my head like little nauseous chick flick gremlins eating away at a brain full of Hawks and Welles and Ford and Mann and Scorsese and baseball and meat and other manly things.  (yea yea, I know, I love Musicals too, but let's keep with the manly-man image I am trying to build here!) 

Seriously though, I did expect a quite maudlin affair full of cloying cliches (insufferably so!), but what I got was a well-rounded film with a surprising amount of very un-Lifetime/Hallmark channel dancing sugarplummery (was that even a word!?).

Perhaps not the greatest film - it falters here and there, and here again - but it certainly comes as a rather refreshing surprise when all told.  And Annette Bening is simply remarkable in a role that could have easily fallen into the obvious and the pathetic.

Monday, June 28, 2010

MacGruber Reviewed at The Cinematheque

I love Will Forte!  I love Kristen Wiig!  I even love Val Kilmer! (at least in the kind of snarky role he has here - think Iceman does Colonel Flagg from M*A*S*H)  Now my question is why didn't I like MacGruber!?  Okay, I suppose the question answers itself - after all, how many SNL skits (let alone rather poor ones like this) make good movies?  Anyhoo, no need to wonder why the film sucked so much (even with talented funny people involved) we just have to move on.  But before you do that, go ahead and peruse my review - Ya know ya want to.  And anyway, how can a film be all bad if it has, not one, but two scenes involving celery up the ass!?

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Survival of the Dead Reviewed at The Cinematheque

Before going on, I must first admit to an unnatural (but wholly rational I tell you!) fear of zombies.  Forget vampires and werewolves and chainsaw-weilding maniacs.  Forget giant lizard like things burning up Tokyo, it is the undead, more than any other movie monster (as it were), that scare the living bejeezus out of me.  Don't know why (perhaps it is the fact that with most movie monsters, they can be stopped by daylight, but with the walking dead they just keep coming and coming and coming and...well you know) and don't care why.  I just know it is true and that is my (some may say ridiculous) burden to bear.

Anyhoo... my newest review is on George A. Romero's Survival of the Dead (the sixth in the 42 year old series!) and (ir)rational fear aside, the movie just isn't that good.  It's not terrible (as it could have easily been) but it is certainly not very good either.  The weakest of the set, Survival does have its moments (including the hottest undead chick this side of never!? - yeah, I said it!) but not near enough to claim a seat in the class with Romero's first four ...of the Dead series (number five, Diary of the Dead, though better than most give it credit for, falls short as well).  The worst (or best) part is that the film never scared me.  The admitted zombiephobe!  Not scared!?  What worse of a criticism for such a movie could there be!?

Thursday, June 24, 2010

To Watch in a Theater or To Watch at Home (is that really the question?

The grand (and idealistic) idea of watching movies in a crowded theater being the proper (and some say only!) way to watch movies can seem a bit antiquated by some (the younger blogger/twitter crowd who have grown up on You Tube and Hulu) and a bit right-on-the-proverbial-(fucking!)-nose for others (the so-called old guard who chained themselves to the cinematheque doors back in May of '68 - at least metaphorically-speaking).  I personally consider myself a product of the generation inbetween these two (seemingly) warring factions. 

Born in 1967 (the Summer of Love as it were), I grew up watching movies on TV.  Sure I would go to the theater (it is quite the strange juxtaposition of having Benji and The Towering Inferno as the first two films I remember seeing in a theater proper!) but the movies that made me love the cinema were those I first saw on my little 12" TV in my childhood bedroom late at night (when I was supposed to be fast asleep dreaming of sugar plum fairies and warding off those dreaded bed bug bites!).  Films like King Kong, The African Queen, The Maltese Falcon, The Thin Man, The Philadelphia Story, To Have and Have Not.  These are the films that led to my love of classic cinema.  My love of the golden age of Hollywood and eventually my love of an expanded world cinema.

It wasn't in the theaters where this love was born, but on a tiny TV in a wide-eyed child's bedroom (ignore the hyperbole).  It wasn't until I became a (so-called) grown-up that the cinema houses became a haven.  Films as diverse as Raiders of the Lost Ark, Amadeus, A Passage to India, Sophie's Choice, Brazil and Ran (the very first foreign-language film I ever saw on the big screen).  Along with my duties as a film critic and (sometimes) film historian, I now run a three-screen arthouse cinema in Harrisburg Pa, with my lovely wife (sorry GK for usurping your loving spousal pet name) so even though the small screen gave me my first tastes of cinematic love, it is now the large screen that carries me along.

The reason I even bring this whole thing up is a post I recently read on Jim Emerson's wonderful Scanners blog, entitled "Cinema Isn't Dead, It's Just Different" (perhaps I was hooked by Jim including a pic of Godard that I personally use as my Facebook profile pic on a semi-regular basis - but it is a must read anyway!).  Many older critics (that damned old guard!) tend to grandstand that cinema is dead and it has the younger set to blame.  Granted the idea of instant gratification in critical duties (re: anyone can write anything on anybody - whether they have a talent for such a thing or not) is taken to the proverbial nth level these days and there are many (too many I suppose one could easily say) voices that know absolutely nothing about cinema or its history spouting off all over the web.  I suppose because many of these voices are the so-called younger set (though many are not) it is because of this that the old guard grumps and groans about cinema (and film criticism) being dead.  Their easy wail is that the internet has killed it!  Of course there are many "critics" out there with ties to "hard copy" jobs (those with gigs in the ever-dying paper world) who know less than nothing about cinema, and yet they keep flailing about with the respect often given out freely to anyone who is not "just an online critic".  Their names need not be named here, but we all know who they are.  Of course being one of these very same "just an online critic" (though I do have a regular film column in a local alt monthly) I must take offense at such generalizations.  But I am getting (sort of) off topic.

The whole debate (if one can even call it that - though I just did, so there!) has merits on both sides.  On one (Emerson's - among many others - side) there is the fact that because of today's technology there are so many more classic films available to watch that it is indeed a cinephile's boon.  On the other hand, to see something shimmering up there in glorious 35mm is a sight to behold indeed.  As I said, I fall inbetween the two warring factions so I suppose I can see both sides for what they are worth.  Though my cinephilia was born on that tiny bedroom TV (there is still a certain nostalgic romanticism to recalling seeing King Kong or Frankenstein on that tiny TV on the Late Late Show - even if modern technologies have made it null and void), and many of my favourite films I have never seen on anything bigger than my own grown-up big screen TV, I cannot deny the giddy rapture of watching these great films in 35mm on the theater's own big screens.

Just last year,  on one my many trips to NYC to catch some movies (as I am prone to do as often as I can) I had the opportunity to see The Red Shoes (one of the greatest films of all time I declare unabashedly!) at Film Forum.  Rushing in (much like those kids at the beginning of that very same movie) and taking my place front row, center, it was almost a religious experience.  No, I take that back - it WAS a religious experience!  Other favourites I have been lucky enough to see on the big screen include The Bicycle Thieves (at Lincoln Plaza Cinema during the same trip), La Dolce Vita (also at Film Forum a few years back), Casablanca (at Hershey Theater here at home - a wonderously restored art deco movie palace), Singin' in the Rain, Some Like It Hot and Vertigo on it's revival a decade or so ago.  There is nothing that can top these experiences, but (outside of a perfect world) this is not a practice to be had with every movie one sees - especially considering this cinephile sees at least 300+ films per year (with a goal of 500+ per year that I shamedly have yet to meet). 

I suppose my tendencies do lean toward the movie theater experience over home viewing (no matter how big and luxurious one's home system may be) though one cannot help but be put off by the rudeness of all those talkers, texters and tweeters strewn about the typical multiplex (then again, many of the films playing there end up unwatchable anyway!).  This 35mm theater screening (sans, the annoyances) is the ideal, but one must still take into account the amazingly vast availability of film on DVD/Blu-Ray that was never near as prevalent as back in those supposed halcyon days of lore.  And one must also take into account that many (nay, most) of the films one cannot easily see in a movie house, so home viewing is their only option.  My lovely wife and I often put one of our DVD's up on the big screen in our little theater after hours for our own viewing, so we do have a better opportunity to see these classics in a cinema (even if it is not 35mm), but others do not, so the DVD/Blu-Ray boon is, well, it's a boon.  Perhaps my ideal is to be front row center at Film Forum watching Moira Shearer twirl about - surrounded by like-minded cinephiles (NOT at the multiplex!!) or after hours at my cinema with my wife and a few close friends.  Then again, I watch movies (like a rabbit does other things) at home in the dark - and without interruptions (I so hate that!).  I suppose, no matter a young buck or an old head, there is something for everyone.  Like Emerson said, cinema isn't dead, it's just different.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Micmacs Reviewed at The Cinematheque

Jeunet usually equals sweet and sappy storytelling but with a visually macabre bent.  The filmmaker has his highs (City of Lost Children) and his lows (Amelie) and his inbetweens (A Very Long Engagement) and I suppose his latest would fit kinda snugly in that latter category.  Moments of giddy resplendence are rampant throughout (many claim an affinity to Chaplin but all-in-all it is sort of an homage to Tati and his jocular M. Hulot) and it never dips into the saccharine diet of a film like the loathsome Amelie.  I suppose the best I can say is I had fun while watching the movie.  That's a good thing, right?  Anyway, the full review is over at that there site of mine (you know the one) so check it out when you get a chance (the link is just below after all!). 

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

My Quest To See the 1000 Greatest:
The Saga of Gosta Berling (1924)

The Saga of Gosta Berling is #569 in  

Screened 01/11/10 on DVD from GreenCine

Ranked #931 on TSPDT


Much like the last entry in my Quest (see here) this is a film that had to wait several months before getting it's moment in the spotlight as it were.  Be that as it may (better late than never, eh?), here are my random thoughts on said film.

The Saga of Gosta Berling is mostly known as being the film that began it all for the elusive movie star, Greta Garbo, long before she just "vanted to be left alone".  Filmed in 1924 in Sweden by Mauritz Stiller, the film itself is not all that remarkable outside of Garbo frolicking around in the woods and on the beach.  Luckily there is quite a lot of said frolicking.  But that is pretty much it.

Much like his film, Stiller has never been much known for anything outside of discovering and bringing Garbo to the states.  Sure, The Saga of Gosta Berling has a sense of Greed at times.  But alas, none of this promise is gathered for long enough to matter - and on top of that Stiller died in 1928, after being essentially kicked to the curb by MGM (and probably Garbo too) hence never coming to the potential he at first exhibited. has its moments (even outside of Garbo) and even has slight innuendo that lean toward a filmmaking style such as Griffith or Von Stroheim, or his fellow countryman Sjostrom.  It weven Reminds one of

Overall, not my favourite of the 1000 (or even close) even though it did give us Garbo, which should be worth mucho points in itself.  Without Stiller (who had remade the ugly duckling teenage Greta into a ravishing beauty!) there would have been no Flesh and the Devil.  No Anna Christie.  No Grand Hotel!  No Queen Christina!!  No Ninochtka!!!  Without Stiller there would have been no Garbo, and that would have been terrible.  It is an interesting enough film though for me to search out the director's other works (Sir Arne's Treasure and Erotikon) and raise my knowledge (somewhat lacking in such) some on early Swedish cinema.  Oh yea, and there is Garbo (did I mention that?).

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Robin Hood Reviewed at The Cinematheque

Another overblown Ridley Scott film.  'nuff said, but go ahead and read my review anyway - and enjoy the pic of an inept, blowhard, once promising director telling his much more talented actors what they should do to be heard over the excruciatingly obnoxious bombast of his latest movie.  Not much it seems.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

The Runaways Reviewed at The Cinematheque

Another in my ever-decreasing array of catch-up reviews from my sabbatical time. (P.S. - almost caught up).  Also, to shout my own praises (I don't care what Will Rogers said dammit!!) I would like to highlight a certain line from my review because I really thrilled myself by writing it.  It is "Stealing every scene she's in with an understated brooding manner (a la Brando with breasts!) Stewart proves that she is more than just the ashen-skinned Olive Oyl to a vampiric Popeye and a lycanthropic Bluto."  It may very well be pretty damned cheesy, but I can't help enjoying it.  Anyway, go ahead and read the entire review now.  Thanx.

Vincere Reviewed at The Cinematheque

Although a new movie, Marco Bellocchio's Vincere reminds one of not only the art cinema of the fifties and sixties, but also of the early Soviet cinema of Eisenstein, Dovzhenko and Vertov.  This seems to be some sort of cinematic roadblock for the uninitiated among filmgoers - many of them calling the film brash and loud and overly dramatic.  Of course these are the very attributes that made this film so enjoyable for yours truly.  Ah well, you can't please everyone - nor should you want to.  Anyway, my review is finally posted over at The Cinematheque (weeks after seeing it) and it is one of many reviews that were waylaid by my sudden (and quite unexpected, even by me) sabbatical during March and April.  And it is also one step closer to me finally catching up on all those "lost" reviews - a thing that should happen very soon now.

My Quest To See the 1000 Greatest:
City of God (2002)

City of God is #568 in  

Screened 12/07/09 on DVD from Netflix

Ranked #620 on TSPDT

"If you run you're dead...if you stay, you're dead again. Period."
It has been more than six months since I first watched City of God but certain images stick with a person long enough to still talk about it as if it were as fresh as a newborn peach.  Of course considering the suffering rampant in this film (and in the real life ghettos portrayed in said film) and the despicable actions of its street fleet full of non-actors (many actual residents of the ghettos shown in the film) that is one goddamn bruised peach we are talking about - and one goddamn bruised movie too.

Cinematically revolutionary at the time of its making and release (2002), City of God is the story of the youth of Brazil and the challenges of growing up in what are considered to be some of the worst ghettos in the world.  Gang warfare, drug running and a general disregard for human life (both others and their own) bathe the film with an ugly, vile light.  This harshness is made even harsher by the ultra-realism embedded into the filmmaking style of the dual directing of Fernando Meirelles & Katia Lund.

With quick edits and revolting close-ups, sudden, disorienting shift changes and a hi-def hyper-reality, City of God is both a breathtaking remarkable film and a disturbing socio-economic repugnance.  A tale where the strong don't even survive.  City of God is a film that takes the daring experimentations of Glauber Rocha, Brasilia's very own enfant terrible (as well as the aesthetic found in much of third world cinema today, especially the work of Kiarostami and his ilk) and mashes it up with the in-your-face, post millennial cinema of the no consequence Zero Generation of the likes of modern day French provocateurs such as Gasper Noe and Bruno Dumont.  A movie of hatred and self-loathing that is simultaneously luscious in its execution, City of God is a motion picture of vile pulchritude indeed.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

The Secret in Their Eyes Reviewed at The Cinematheque

I have always felt rather lackadaisical about the films chosen for the Best Foreign-Language Oscar (as opposed to by thrill at what wins Best Pix each year!? he said ironically).  They are usually the most middle of the road choices and this past year was no exception.  The Argentinian film The Secret in  Their Eyes is wonderfully acted but lacks any real passion to make it anything other than mediocre and/or middlebrow at best.  The real shame is the potential this film had to be another in the vein of the recent The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.  Unfortunately the director never pushes the proverbial envelope and thus, the film fails on most parts (other than the stellar main performances).  

Read my review of The Secret in Their Eyes at The Cinematheque.

North Face Reviewed at The Cinematheque

Yet another in a long line of catch-up reviews from my sabbatical of March and April.

Read my review of North Face at The Cinematheque.

The Taste of Blue Velvet

I must admit to committing a rather peculiar act the other day.  You see, besides being a (world famous!?) film critic and a (still relatively novice) film historian, I also run, along with my lovely wife, a small arthouse cinema in my hometown of Harrisburg PA.  In connection with our local film festival, we play a few midnight movies each and every Memorial Day weekend.  This year, one of the films was David Lynch's brilliantly subversive Blue Velvet.  I have never seen BV on the big screen (my first viewing was on VHS way back in 1987) and here it was right in front of me - and on 35mm to boot!

Now every time I would venture back to the projection room (we had the print in our grubby little possession for three days) I would run my hands over the film.  Now this is not the peculiar part of my story.  Really, it's not.  I love the feel of celluloid - always have - but when I would touch, nay, when I would rub, nay again, when I would caress that print of Blue Velvet, it took on a somewhat more, shall we say, erotic nature!?  Perhaps I was channeling Frank Booth (Dennis Hopper passed away sometime during this whole scenario) or maybe I was subconsciously dreaming of Dorothy Vallens - who knows.  All I knew was, something had possessed me.  But again, this is not the peculiar part - or at least it is not the most peculiar part.  Just wait.

 You see, at some point, don't ask me when, I came to the conclusion that caressing was just not enough.  I wanted more.  I needed more!  I had to have more!!  So, of course, I took the next logical step.  I licked that 35mm print of Blue Velvet.  You read that right - I licked it.  It was just a tiny lick mind you, but a lick nonetheless.  My wife once contemplated licking a Picasso at the Guggenheim in NY, but the beefy, burly guards had scared her off.  Alas, there were no beefy, burly guards back in that projection room, so I gave it a lick.  A gentle, loving lick.  The lick of a born and bred cinephile.  The revolutionaries of the sixties may have chained themselves to the cinematheque doors, but how many of them actually licked those films they adored so much?  None I bet - none!  Okay, this may seem quite strange - and indeed it may very well be - but there you have it.  I licked Blue Velvet.

I suppose this story could have gotten a lot weirder (think Jason Biggs and a certain apple pie that mom was told had been eaten) so perhaps a mere lick (okay, two licks dammit!!) is not the worst thing that could have happened.  Of course, then after all that was said and done (and licked) I sat down with a crowd of unsuspecting moviegoers and watched Blue Velvet up there on the big screen.  I couldn't really tell which few frames had been licked and I am sure no one else would have even fathomed such a thing had even occurred, but I believe it brought something more to the already luscious viewing on that big screen, amongst all those poor unsuspecting fellow viewers.

A brilliant film - licked or unlicked - and it was beyond a thrill to see it on 35mm and projected on the big screen for a crowd filled with mostly first-time viewers.  Most seemed to enjoy it (though some of the younger crowd seemed to laugh at the more melodramatic parts) and the screening was a great success - even if no one had any idea that I had gotten to second base with the movie earlier that evening.