Thursday, February 28, 2008

Couchies (La Fin)

Best Picture

Ok, well it's probably about time to wrap the Couchies up, and get on to reviewing a new crop of films. Before giving the best picture nominees and winner, I'll say 2007 was one hell of a year for movies, not only because of what was released, but everything else Sean and I got to in the past 7 months, starting with Inland Empire and Old Joy, probably my two favorite films of the year, but never reviewed! We had Herzog, we had Morris, we had some clunkers, but mostly 25-30 damn good movies. And that's only what we got to! Off RFC, there was just on my end Margot (coming), the Coens, a newfound respect for P.T Anderson, two amazing performances from Ryan Gosling, a Chaplin marathon, a record 4/5 of the Oscar nominated movies, the realization that American History X is just a poorly made movie, 1/2 of Rambo, and..shit, I still haven't seen Lust Caution, 4 Months..., The Man from London, and probably twenty other movies I wanted to see. Oh, yeah and there was a movie about Dylan too! Ah, but the fun is in trying. So, without comment (we've talked about these movies enough)...

The Nominees

3:10 to Yuma

Armée des ombres, L' (Army of Shadows)

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford


And the Winner is...
(take a guess!)

Werckmeister harmóniák (Werkmeister Harmonies)

See you next year.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Couchies Part VI

Best Director

Andrew Bujalski - Funny Ha Ha

Bujalski's debut effort in 2002 may not herald a new era of filmaking, and the the comparisons to Cassavetes have waned, but anyone who can create a film this close to real life has done something extraordinary. When the vast majority of your movie consists of people sitting around and talking, the director's job becomes harder, not easier. Quick cuts and reverse pans were not going to work for the kitchen table at Marnie's either; Bujalski somehow managed to find a style and rhythm in between long artistic shots and the all-too-common handheld camera that cannot be categorized.

Andrew Dominik - The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford

I'm glad I saw The Assassination before seeing Dominik's debut feature Chopper. While the latter is exactly the kind of stylized crime and violence pic that directors seem to make as a calling card, The Assassination was like nothing I'd ever seen before; contemplative, violent, plodding, just fucking strange. Part of this has to do with Robert Ford being an infinitely more interesting character than Mark "Chopper" Read, the (somehow!) boring sociopath/criminal/vigilante from Dominik's 2000 cult hit. But more importantly, Domminik managed to extend his movie to 160 minutes, allowing multiple side plots, characters, and tensions to develop. I know Sean is a big fan of the short movie, but anytime there are real characters at the center of a story, it has to be this long. You need to be able to get into these characters and have time for events to happen that are not part of the plot (for example, Breach could have been a phenomenal movie had it lasted 30 minutes longer). Even decisions that seemed wrong at the time - the narration, the weird music - still linger. Since I won't be staying up to watch the Oscars this year, I may just watch the best movie released in 2007 instead.

David Fincher - Zodiac

Another data point for the argument for long movies. Fincher's tale of a real-life serial murderer is almost the exact opposite of his earlier Se7en. Instead of taking the conventional crime route, where clues and leads build towards a climactic finish, Zodiac starts off with what turns out to be the climax and then slowly unwinds for the next two and half hours, as the movie's focus shifts from the killer to the investigators, and slasher violence and suspense turn to character studies and resignation. I wouldn't be surprised if the movie disappointed a lot of people, but I'm happy that this movie wasn't edited down to a lean 100 minutes. It takes time to get to know all of the characters in the sprawling investigation, and without caring about them, the movie would have lost it's purpose. Fincher's best work.

Jean-Pierre Melville - Army of Shadows

Now this is suspense. Melville is a master and building tension with few cuts and no music, and his style is perfect for the paranoia of Army of Shadows. I really am not sure why so few directors take this route (the Coens being a rather notable exception), but when the director puts less of himself into a film, the audience is forced to do some work, and the fantasies and expectations of an uncertain audience will always surpass what a writer can come up with. Just like the best horror is unseen, the best suspense is subtle, as when it dawns on the viewer that Phillipe is going to have to kill a traitor without using his gun. Similarly, loyalties are always uncertain because there is no creepy music playing or almost any overt foreshadowing; the realizations of duplicity hits us the way it hits the characters, out of the blue.

And the winner is...

Béla Tarr - Werkmeister Harmonies

Another category, another win for Werkmeister. I've mentioned Tarr enough so that I don't have to go into detail here, but the guy is just beautiful. Other than possibly Lynch, I can't think of another director I like whose films are art first, art second, art third, and maybe a little entertainment fourth. Most artistic directors tend to be avant-garde and almost unwatchable, but Tarr's films are more like paintings than what's playing at the local cineplex or "art" house. Sure there are character and plot, but I just can't take my eye off of the screen in this movie, and I remember scenes the way I remember great paintings...they are not just in your mind's eye, but when you picture them, you feel them too, so indelible the initial image. It's not so much unfair to compare him to other directors as it is pointless; he is just doing something entirely different.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

The Results Are In

In a wild, odds defying turn of events Special Fellow (Destroyer in this case) kicked ass supreme in the Oscar Fun Pointz. After years of me, Sean, ruling the land in this contest, I was handed a bitter defeat. There truly is no country for... ah fuck it.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Sean's DVR-O-RAMA Day 4

Wrapping it up on President's Day we were a bit let down with the first offering, Fearless Fighters. Not that it isn't an awesome kung-fu movie from 1971 -- one of the first exports of it's kind into the US. It's just that, unbeknownst to me, I'd seen the motherfucker before, so we're kinda breaking a rule but lookee what we got here: An evil bastard named Topa kills Lightning Whip and steals the gold he was transporting. He frames Lei Pong who at once gets arrested and has his entire family killed except for his son. Shin and Mulan (of Disney fame?), kin of Lightning Whip, go to avenge their father's death by hunting down Lei Pong while Lady Tei finds his surviving son and takes him to his father in jail. Of course they all figure out Topa is really the bastard behind all this and team up to kick some as at his hideout -- the Dragon Spur Inn. Simple story, right?

It's an extremely low budget affair, but it's all the more charming because of it. My favorite technique that is used repeatedly throughout is the heroes catching arrows or dart in their hands or mouths and then throwing them right back to where they came and killing the original senders. An easy and fun gimmick that gets a laugh every time they do it. After this week or so of movies I'm now under the belief that Robert Altman and kung-fu movies are the only genres where the zoom is used to it's full potential. I guess I should add Sergio Leone to that...

The movie hits high gear when Topa puts out a call for all competent bounty hunters to kill Lei Pong for him. This introduces us to the likes of the Soul Pickers and the One Man Army. Topa quickly falls for the extravagant hair, outfits and unique killing styles of the two man team that is the Soul Pickers. You don't see many assassins with matching shoulder length hair and head bands -- one of them has a pretty awesome pair of cymbals that cause explosions when pointed at you just right. But they got nothing on One Man Army. An arrogant prick who can make his one sword (and set of arms for a moment) turn into two with some fancy camera work.

This kind of multiple exposure camera trickery is quite popular in the early kung-fu movie of the 60s and 70s. Lo-fi experimentation like this is one of the reasons these movies hold a dear place in my heart. I'm sure a lot of these tricks and edits were on the spot, in-camera, and done with few takes. It's especially awesome in the wuxia genre when they can accomplish those two or three shots in the movie where they can actually get a character to fly over a lake, up a cliff, or in that scene at the Dragon Spur Inn, through a table head first.

It has a truly badass ending involving archaic artificial limb weaponry, but it falls slightly below the Five Deadly Venoms and the Flying Guillotine/One Armed Boxer movies for me and my 70s Chinese kung-fu films. But since Fearless Fighters was made some years earlier it's definitely got some kudos.

Billy Wilder's One, Two, Three holds the most awesome discovery of this DVR adventure. It's an amazing break-neck speed madcap farce of capitalism at its finest. James Cagney is a force of nature as Mac MacNamara, West Berlin's top Coca-Cola executive. He's cracking the iron curtain, aiming for that sweet heading European operations that'll take him out of Berlin to London when he hears the bad news from his boss -- Coke wants nothing to do with the commies. Instead, please watch over my daughter Scarlett while she's in town.

This of course sounds like a simple sitcom plot but rather it's simply the excuse to hang a satire skewering capitalism, communism, fascism -- take the scene at the Grand Hotel Potemkin (formerly known as the Grand Hotel Bismark) where the band is playing Yes We Have No Bananas (sung in German) as McNamara tries to strike a deal with the East German trade Commission while Scarlett's communist husband is being tortured by a warped playing of Yellow Polka Dot Bikini. The scene at the Potemkin quickly turns into a dizzying display of anarchy involving table top flame dancing that causes the portrait of Khrushchev to fall and reveal Stalin's portrait still framed behind it.

This movie reminded me a lot of what I liked about the Emir Kusturica movies I've seen, a guy who's still trying to carry on this tradition of controlled anarchy and the exhilaration it can bring. One, Two, Three is a helluva movie. I honestly wish it was the first Billy Wilder movie I'd seen -- it's a great introduction to him and Cagney. What a performance he delivers and one of the greatest things about it is that he and the performers around him are playing with the Cagney persona the entire time. Yes, One Two, Three is pretty fucking meta.

This was actually the last movie I've seen since I began this but I'm going to touch on a few other peripherals. I did watch the last half hour of Discreet Charm again. Of course, I like the movie -- it's an achievement. My original feelings stick with me. It's a a wholly original and in its way a groundbreaking film. But at the same time I do feel it is a repetitive to the point of redundant story. It looses my interest as it goes on, even though I continually enjoy the spectacle. [spoiler I suppose] Part of my problem lies in Bunuel allowing the viewer to both enjoy watching these people get gunned down and walk off into the sunset. How about one or the other?

The movie I watched on the DVR when this idea came to mind? Wonderland. Definitely the most whythefuckdidIdvrthis? movie. It has that same thing that got me to watch other bad movies I suppose. The main actor (Val Kilmer) interests me, as does the supporting cast. I love true crime fiction and a true crime story involving John Holmes, hey yeah sure.

Hey yeah what else is on? You know, if you're gonna do the Rashomon route you have to pull some damn special kind of magic out of your hat. Making one of your storytellers a Dylan McDermott with a hideously fake goatee is the most obvious mistake -- if only you could have made him the hideously under used Tim Blake Nelson we could have been on to something here. Instead we have a below average telling of a nevertheless still interesting tale of drugs, sex, violence told with all the finesse of a Lifetime movie.

Couchies Part V

Best Screenplay

Unlike the Oscars, I'm going to lump together adapted and original screenplays. Part of this is just practical, but I also the think the difference between the two talents is negligible. Unless you are adapting something from the theater, the screenplay is really an entirely different product. Looking over my best screenplay nominations next to the best director ones (coming soon), I think I'm in agreement that the auteur theory of movies promoted by the French New Wave and Cahiers du Cinema really undervalues the role of writing. A Film By credit should only be taken seriously when the director was directly involved in the writing. As a whole, I like the group of films here more than those under the Best Director category.

The Nominations

Wes Anderson, Roman Coppola, Jason Schwartzman - The Darjeeling Limited

Anderson deserves all the credit he gets for his innovative and signature directing style, but I've always appreciated his writing more. Darjeeling Limited is filled with wonderful non-sequitors ("is that my belt"), odd phrases and repetitive themes ("don't tell him I told you") that drive the movie more than the extended closeups and immaculately designed shots. Watching an Anderson movie a second time is always a requirement in my book, because the visuals are overwhelming in the first viewing; you hardly follow the dialogue while staring at the Louis Vittton designed suitcases and monogrammed pajamas. I don't know anyone who saw Bottle Rocket, Rushmore or Royal Tannenbaums a second time and didn't like them more. The implausibility and seeming randomness of so many lines are, like a good jazz song, always appreciated more when you already know the basics.

James Brooks, Matt Groening, et. al - The Simpsons Movie

Sure there were about a hundred writers on this movie, and it wasn't close to the iconic seasons, but the Simpsons was damn funny, and managed again to present a sappy family-centered story amidst all the mayhem created by Homer. As I wrote in the initial review, I would have liked to see more from the peripheral characters (and President Wolfcastle of course!), but to revive a moribund show that couldn't keep my interest for 22 minutes and make a 90 minute entertaining flick was pretty impressive.

Andrew Bujalski - Funny Ha Ha

While Kate Dollenmayer steals the show, the rest of the movie is held together by Bujalski's "writing." While there is a lot of improvisation and unscripted dialogue, Bujalski gets credit for creating the scenes, the tensions, and the scenarios where poor actors can shine. Any attempt to force profundities into the mouths of these guys would have been disastrous, and all the awkwardness, hesitation, and despondency of the characters comes out because Bujalski allows them to be themselves. And the Marnie-Alex-Mitchell dynamic is perfectly written, as true to live as anything I saw this year.

Andrew Bujalski - Mutual Appreciation

If I had to judge between the two, this would be the better written movie. Moving beyond the the simple "boredom" angle of Funny Ha Ha, Bujalski contrasts the lives of a twenty-something dreamer with the twenty-something "real people." The 20s are a hard time for friendships, as some people, like Bujalski's Lawrence and Rachel Clift's Ellie settle down into a life of contentment while their friends, in this case Alan, continues to pursue his dream of being a musician. Bujalski presents both sides as equal, the jealously of Lawrence but also the struggles faced by Alan. The dichotomy is not as simple as "selling out" or "staying true." In the world of twenty-first century America, where "big dreams" consist of having a band, there is no satisfying choice.

And the winner is...

Bela Tarr, Lazlo Krasznahorkai - Werckmeister harmóniák

That's Werkmeister Harmonies to you. Based on Krasznahorkai's novel "The Melancholy of Resistance," Werkmeister is a classic, full of odd characters, powerful scenes, dramatic tension, and simple beauty. I've seen quite a few early Tarr films, and there can be no question that he has benefited from his recent collaborations with Krasznahorkai on Werkmesiter, Satantango, and Damnation. While the early films still had beautifully crafted long shots, the characters were mostly two dimensional; either bittersweet beauties crushed by the Communist government, or drunken Hungarians who beat and rape their women. While there are historical and political truths contained in Tarr's early films, as art they suffered. Using Krasznahorkai's novels, the realistic dialogue of a married couple struggling to find housing has been replaced by elliptical and obscure monologues and declarations. To borrow Werner Herzog's distinction, the early Tarr films, while powerful, captured only the accountant's truth. With his recent films with Krasznahorkai, especially Werkmeister, Tarr has found his ecstatic, and artistic, truth.

Coming up...Best Director

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Magnetic Fields - Somerville Theater 2/15/08

Picture Book

Three Way!

Some people do not want Distortion.

On 2/15/08 Magnetic Fields played the Somerville Theater... the first song...

See them on their big, bright screen, tan and blonde and seventeen. Eating nonfood keeps them mean, but they're young forever. If they must grow up, they marry dukes and earls. I hate California girls. They ain't broke, so they put on airs, the faux folk sans derrieres. They breathe coke and they have affairs with each passing rock star. They come on like squares, then get off like squirrels. I hate California girls. Looking down their perfect noses at me and my kind, do they think we won't--well, nevermind. Laughing through their perfect teeth at everyone I know, do they think we won't get up and go? So I have planned my grand attacks. I will stand behind their backs with my brand-new battle ax. Then they will taste my wrath. They will hear me say, as the pavement whirls, "I hate California girls..."

and then...

You told me you loved me. I know where and when. Come sunrise, surprise surprise, the joke's on me again. I know you don't love me. You know I don't care. Keep it hidden better. Did I say the world was fair? I thought I was just the guy for you and it would never end. I thought we were supposed to be like glue. I thought you were my boyfriend. Love or not, I've always got ten guys on whom I can depend, and if you're not mine, one less is nine; get wise. I thought you were my boyfriend. I just hope you're happy stringing me along. While you're stringing, I'm here singing this, my saddest song. I wish I could see you. I wish I could sleep. Should I freak out? Should I seek out someone I could keep? I wanted you tonight. I walked around a lot, wishing you were here to keep me from sleeping with anyone who might want me, or even not. Some guys have a beer and they'll do anything, anything...

and then...

The book of love is long and boring. No one can lift the damn thing. It's full of charts and facts and figures and instructions for dancing. But I love it when you read to me, and you can read me anything. The book of love has music in it. In fact, that's where music comes from. Some of it is just transcendental. Some of it is just really dumb. But I love it when you sing to me, and you can sing me anything. The book of love is long and boring and written very long ago. It's full of flowers and heart-shaped boxes and things we're all to young to know. But I love it when you give me things, and you ought to give me wedding rings.

Who could ask for more? Not I. The word impeccable comes to mind and I realize I badly need some sleep.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Sean's DVR-O-RAMA Day 3

This is taking a toll on me. Maybe it's the two days of medication catching up or all the subtitles but today was the first time I'd fallen asleep during one of these movies. This was even after three cups of coffee and taking no meds.

So we started off with catching up on last night's Lost. What a fucking season this is already. I love Sayid-centric episodes and this one rocked hard. I hope and pray that the show gives us a Sayid and Lt. Daniels showdown. I'm guessing Ben isn't one of the Oceanic 6 -- but with Jack, Hurley, Kate and Sayid, I'm guessing Sun and Jin are the other two since they're reported to have their own centric episode in a couple weeks. I'm still going to say it's Juliette in the casket though. And lordy, do I love the Freighties. Jeremy Davies, Jeff Fahey and Ken Leung are perfect. All three doing their own job at deceit in their own sweet little perfect ways. It used to be I got excited for the weeks new show that day -- but now it's goddamn torture waiting for the next episode it's gotten so good.

After Lost I went back to the bottom of the DVR queue and hit Play on Louis Malle's 1971 Murmur of the Heart (at least that's what it's called here). A 1950's coming-of-age story set around 15 year old Laurent. The son of a successful Parisian gynecologist and an Italian born mother who looks pretty good for her unspecified age. Laurent has two inseparable older brothers -- their father calls his kids the two idiots and the genius and is not pleased with things either way. Laurent does well in school and is a through and through mama's-boy. He occasionally smokes, drinks and steals jazz records but for the most part is a good kid.

Whatever happened to the swinging jazz film score? Is Woody Allen the only guy out there keeping this alive? After Knife in the Water and the opening scene to Murmer I think every movies should have at least one scene set to a be-boppin' tune.

Well, shortly after Laurent's brothers have him de-virginized at a nouveau brothel outside of town he develops a heart murmur. He's soon sent to a upscale health spa with his mother in tow. It's practically like coed dorm life without the classes and more tennis. Some of the older kids start flirting with Laurent's mother and soon the Freudian undercurrent of Laurent's affections start becoming overcurrents.

But it's all handled with a deft and tender touch by Malle. Benoit Ferreux's performance as Laurent is great in a Antoine Doinel in 400 Blows kind of way. Lea Massari pulls off a difficult role as the mother. Their relationship is a high-wire act for these two performers and basically the movie would fall apart if there's a misstep. They deserve a lot of credit but i think this is mostly the magic of Louis Malle who keeps it all soulful and innocent.

I need to see more Malle. I love everything I've seen from the guy but I only think that covers Elevator to the Gallows, Atlantic City, My Diner With Andre, Vanya on 42nd Street and this. More work needs to be done.

But that will have to wait as next on the list is Luis Bunuel's The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie. Another of cinema's classics that I can cross off my list. Some people call Bunuel one of the greatest film makers ever. Prior to this I've only seen Belle de jour so I can't exactly call myself someone with an informed opinion but he hasn't made it ti the top of my list quite yet. But it was interesting to see how much Gilliam cribbed from DCB for Brazil. But I'd still rather sit down with Brazil than watch DCB again. Like I said, maybe it was this schedule of back to back movies I've created for myself but about 90 minutes into the movie I'd had enough.

Don't get me wrong -- this is probably the king of satires. And there's so many classic lines of dialog in the movie that you could sell the script itself as a great work of literature. It just wore me down. Not sure if it was that I found it to get repetitive or redundant after while or if I just needed to step away from the tv for a while but I felt like Bunuel was beating me over the head towards the end and I needed release.

I haven't deleted DCB yet and I'll re-watch the last ten minutes sometime this weekend and maybe give some digested thoughts on it then. Not sure how much reporting I'll dispatch this weekend. I might drop in on Sunday and then deliver a final one on Monday. I have a much needed change of pace awaiting me on ye olde DVR so I'm looking forward to getting away from this prestige stuff. Ok for now.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Sean's DVR-O-RAMA Day 2

The back is acting up a bit worse than yesterday but I'm trying to avoid the upset stomach that I had yesterday but I'm really groggy and feel I'm going to need coffee if I'm going to sit through any movies this morning... So I go with 2 Alleve, 1 Vicodin and 1 Rules of the Game.

What can I say about this movie that a million other people haven't already said better than I could. It's a classic in every sense. It's one of those moves like the best Dylan and Beatles -- it's taking everything that came before it and turning it into something revolutionary. Renoir created something that influenced everything that came afterward, a touchstone for a new generation of film. Octave, Marceau... even if you've never seen the film before you're completely familiar with it and these characters. The same way as when you hear that new favorite song for the first time and it's like you've been hearing it most your life.

My only problem with the film is Christine (the name of the boat in Knife in the Water btw). Am I the only one who doesn't see what the big deal is with this lady? I only mention it since it's kind of a crucial part to the movie -- having three or four men throwing themselves at her when, honestly I can't figure out that they see in her. Lisette, on the other hand, yeah -- I can see what the fuss is about there.

I'm deciding to stick with the same order they are in the DVR -- so next up is Graveyard of Honor. It's a Japanese Yakuza movie from 1975 by Kinji Fukasaku that tells a Scarface like story of Riki Ishikawas' rise from post-war street thug to clan godfather. Riki's not a very nice guy to say the least. A murderer, rapist, junkie and all around nogoodnik. But like Tony Montana his story is the stuff of gangster legend and behind those sunglasses there is a little bit of charisma. This is all very much in the better to burn out than fade away style. While in prison early on in his rise to power he tells his cell mate that his life will be like a balloon -- up up up. But just the same, he can only reach so high before he falls back to the ground. This happens very literally in his case.

It's an above average gangster movie. There are a few classic, memorable scenes in the film especially in the scene when he if finally given his own territory and clan to godfather. His wife (whom he seduced the old fashioned way by raping her) had just died from TB and he had the bits of her bones that didn't get cremated in a box that he was carrying around. As he's making his demands he starts taking these pieces of bones and while the rest of the people in the room are slack-jawed he starts eating them. "I want 20 million!" Crunch. "Are you completely insane?" Ominous strung-out stare.

Fukasaku is a bit of a legend himself in Japan. His last movie was is the insanely popular, in a cult kind of way, Battle Royale. But before that he was the king of the Yakusa pictures having masterminded the 5 part Yakuza Papers (or Battles Without Honor and Humanity) series. Which is kind of like the Godfather series or The Wire of the Yakuza.

Breaking the order of things I jump up to R. Kelly's Trapped in the Closet (13-22). I'm looking to shake things up here so I can knock another three movies down today. And this shit is amazing. I'm honestly impressed with what Kelly's accomplished with this... experiment? I'm not sure what you call it -- maybe it's just a feature length music video but the story is immersive and sometimes simply hilarious -- intentionally so even.

I'm not going to try to describe the story. The NY Times created a graphic trying to explain how all the dozens of characters relate to each other. I'll try to hunt that down and link to it but here's a good article about it this part of his Closet opus. Ok -- so here's the Times trying to break it all down for you (and effectively make it more confusing than it really is) and yes, Sgt. Platoon is indeed played by Will Oldham. If that doesn't make you want to check this out than I don't know what else will. Oh, The Wire's Omar is in there too.

It's simply an impressive achievement. It's low budget but it uses its limitations to its advantage. I've never considered myself an R. Kelly fan but he has my respect after seeing only half of this work. I don't know of anyone else out there that could pull off giving voice to over 20 distinct characters and putting together a story that is at times a bit ludicrous but completely entertaining and involving. Each of these chapters he's broken it down to, basically one song, ends with a cliffhanger. It's brilliant. One of the best one's has Kelly basically going, wait for it, wait for it, you ain't gonna believe this one... fuckin' guy's a midget.

Another classic is on its way tomorrow and maybe a run down of the Magnetic Fields show. TTFN.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Sean's DVR-O-RAMA Day 1

Today found me in my first of 4 Dr. prescribed days of bed-rest. In a somewhat ironic turn of events this happened due to me preparing for an end of the month move out of my apartment and into RFC US-HQ's new digs. Yes, the real move hasn't even begun and I've already fucked up my back but good. But since this move means I'm going to lose all my DVR recordings, it's the perfect time to burn through the 13 movies I had on there as of this morning. I'm going to attempt to knock these bastards down between now and next Monday and share a couple thoughts on each one. A couple weeks ago, when I first found out that we won't be able to keep our cable box, I went through and deleted the movie's I had already seen -- so these will all be first impressions.

8am -- one (1) Alleve, one (1) Vicodin, one (1) Valium. I have a full French press full of coffee next to me -- let's rock. First up is Robert Altman's Vincent & Theo. It's the oldest movie on my DVR having been sitting in there since 2/11/06.

The opening title music is fantastic, it's this great menacing electric guitar thump while we pan around a close up of a painting. The first scene is quite striking as well -- the audio of an auction of van Gough's sunflower painting is going on in the background while the brother's argue over Vincent's future. From the get-go you know you're going to have to cut this movie some slack with everyone's British accents. But Tim Roth (Vincent) has got that crazy glint in his eyes and makes it easy for you to give yourself over to him (despite those false teeth).

While less Altmanesque than some of his more well known movies, it still carries many of the signatures that set him films apart from the majority. Which makes me wonder why more young film makers haven't cribbed his style. The weight a good zoom or push into an actor during a scene, usually while someone else is speaking, is immense. His technique during a scene with Roth in a field of sunflowers is tremendous; sunflowers have never seemed so perfectly maddening. And the editing -- I love the way his movies are cut together, maybe more than anything else. It's what makes a movie like Vincent & Theo, a pretty standard bio-film, crackle with energy when in the hands of another, it might simply plod along hitting the requisite moments and rely on a good lead performance, costume, locations and art direction to keep it afloat. The score here too is particularly great dealing out menace and foreboding in good measure. Quite happy to finally see this one.

11 am -- Ok. All that coffee was a bad idea. Mixing it with all those meds has left my stomach in a bad state. Will try and come down off this perilous perch with the next film, Neil Jordan's The Good Thief.

A remake of Jean-Pierre Melville's Bob the Gambler, it's interesting to see it get translated from a slow burning meditative character study into a fast paced heist picture. Bob the Gambler was never my favorite Melville picture -- quite the opposite, in fact. It's good, but it lacks some of the pizazz of his other films. I enjoyed this remake quite a bit though. It cuts about an hour of the originals running time and turn in a cracker-jack heist plot.

Jordan is in a kind of Soderberg mode here, employing some fancy editing tricks and getting Nick Nolte to put his charming setting to 10 in the part of Bob. It's nice to see Tcheky Karyo used well here rather than the villain in some b-movie action flick. He plays Bob's cop pal torn between admiration and duty; the most faithful role to the original. It would have been cool to see Jordan score Soderberg himself in a role alongside the other directors he managed to get into the picture -- the Polish Bros. and Emir Kusturica (who we'll get around to discussing one of these days). It's a smart, classy, twist-filled heist flick pulled off with a lot of style and grace.

2:30 -- Needed a break for lunch and a little decompression. Read a few comics and took another pill. But it's time to keep moving. After some debate we're going to continue in order of the most time spent sitting in the DVR with Polanski's Knife in the Water.

If I remember correctly this was one the movies I missed in film school by skipping class one day. It's Roman Polanki's first feature film and an excellent example of how to do a lot with a little. What happens when a dysfunctional husband and wife invite a young naive stranger along on weekend boating trip? 90% of the film takes place on the small boat with three characters and we simply watch the tension build until it boils over.

Polanski deftly toys with the audience and builds suspense that never gets fully released. It's definitely more drama than thriller. Being a Polanski movie I was a bit surprised by how mild it is. It packs in a good amount of sexual tension but overall it's missing that Polanski perversity. But what the hell was I expecting from the guy's first feature? It's an amazing achievement that's concerned more with the male ego, aging relationships and subtle mind games than the murderous kind of games that were played out on a similar boat a couple years prior in Purple Noon.

Especially great are the cinematography and score. The black and white, deep, deep focus photography is striking. I don't think there's one image out of focus in the entire film. And Krysztof Komeda's jazzy score is cool, outta sight stuff, man. I dig this film.

Ok. That's about all I can handle for one day. I'll catch you cats and kittens tomorrow with Day 2 of Sean's DVR-O-RAMA.

Oh, one note -- at the end of my recording of Knife in the Water was the first five minutes of Milos Forman's The Loves of a Blonde and I now must see this movie ASA fuckin' P. Amazing.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Couchies Part IV

Best Actress

Note to writers: Spend a little more time with the motivations and lives of female characters. If you don't know what that means without thinking "chick flick," go see a Noah Baumbach movie. Only one of the following 5 nominees even got a last name, and two didn't get one at all. Geez!

Markéta Irglová - Once

I assume everyone else falls instantly in love with female characters in movies. I hope so, anyway, because it would take a hardened heart not to go silly over Irglova's "Girl," the piano playing half of the songwriting duo. She is of course gorgeous, but also does mirthful and troubled in a character both more deep and shallow than Glen Hansard's "Guy." While Hansard's Irish troubadour suffers the sort of existentialist angst of most Western white guys, Irglova has to still deal with tangible poverty and suffering (how odd to see the Irish as the well-off!). What's especially nice about "the Girl" is that she is neither Hansard's saviour or reclamation project, but an equal. To wish that more female characters had this complexity rather then the Garden Sate/Lonesome Jim cliches.

Stella Malucchi - Tears of the Black Tiger

Sean may do a double take on the selection of Maluchhi for her role as Rumpoey in Tears of the Black Tiger. Yes, Black Tiger may have been the worst movie I sat through all year, but that was mostly due to the ADD cinematography and hoary writing, not the leads. As a sort of idol rather than actual person, Malucchi is stunning in pale makeup and red lipstick. Director Wisit Sasanatieng was obviously looking for a classic Hollywood pin-up for the role, and Malucchi had the looks (and ability to basically just look worried the entire time) to pull off the role. While playing a simple object of obsession is not necessarily very challenging, Malucchi plays this shallowly written part for everything it has.

Maria Schneider - The Passenger

According to Sean, after Schneider's exposure in Last Tango in Paris, she refused an extended love scene with Jack Nicholson in The Passanger. Too bad, after just seeing some of the women in Blow-Up, I would have liked to see her team up with Antonioni. This wasn't the most challenging role, but it is always tough to be "the girl" (yes, that's her character's name too) as the sidekick. I imagine Scheider doesn't come up too often in Awards mentions, so I thought it would be nice to put her in here. But a warning for all those aspirant cuties without acting chops: after those pairings with Brando and Nicholson she was last seen in a voice-over for Phil's wife on Aqua Teen Hunger Force.

Rachel Weisz - The Fountain

Yes, Sean, I wasn't the biggest fan of this movie, but I did like the acting quite a bit. Maybe even if you removed 2/3 of the plots in that jumble of a movie, there could have been a real heartbreaking story underneath. As it is, Weisz and Jackman do their best in the "real" world scenes where they have real hair and costumes, as a couple who are being torn apart by her chronic illness. Their chemistry, especially in the bathtub scene, was powerful, and I didn't even mind seeing the scene where Weisz runs in the snow 25 times because she looked so damn cute in that hat. Looking at the list, Weisz is also the actress here with the chance to carry her own movie, a point driven home by her being the only remotely good part of Wong Kar Wai's recent disaster, My Blueberry Nights. She should be a star.

And the Winner is...

Kate Dollenmayer
- Funny Ha Ha

If you were around me anytime last spring, I probably mentioned Kate Dollenmayer's brilliant turn as the bored, depressed, beat and luckless Marnie, who fucks up all the chances at the good guys and is forced to deal with the dweebs of the world like director Andrew Bujualaski's Mitchell. I was pretty crazy about the girl for a while, not only because she looks stunning in a t-shirt, sweatpants, and unwashed hair, but because she stood out in a cast of pretty poor actors, who seemed capable of only portraying two states of being: awkward or drunk. In Marnie rambling search for meaning, she undercuts the traditional idea of "hipster" in that while over-educated, a slacker, and a binge drinker, she is decidedly uncool. From the opening sequence when she sits slumped in the tattoo parlor in a ratty green t-shirt, she has "generational icon" written all over her. In some unintentional irony, a friend of mine captured her portrayal perfectly: "I didn't really like her, she was just like me."

Next up...Best Screenplay

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Beer of the Month: February

Skull Splitter

Orkney Brewery's Skull Splitter Ale is one of the best Scotch Ales around. It comes in a four pack and packs about a 8.5% punch. It pours a bit thick with an inch plus of bright white head but you'll find a nice amount of bubbles still flowing to the top as you drink it. It's beautiful dark red body goes down smooth and smells sweet like caramel and butterscotch. It doesn't go to too much trouble to hide its power though. Be kind and don't drink too many of these beastly beers. It's called Skull Splitter for a reason and that badass on the bottle doesn't pity no fools. But damn if it isn't one of the best beers around. Tasty. Keeps you warm on the cold February nights. In fact, it's so good that it completely makes up for me missing January's Beer of the Month. It's true.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Couchies Part III

Best Actress in a Supporting Role

Rachel Clift - Mutual Appreciation

Ok, so I'll admit that the supporting actress category will be a little thin. When you consider that I only have 26 movies to go on and that few movies feature well written female characters to begin with, the pickings get pretty slim. If I had reviewed Gone Baby Gone, Amy Ryan's incredible performance as Dorchester's worst mom would have easily won, but no such luck Ames. Anyway, Clift was very good as a standard twentysomething. I liked her.

Catalina Sandino Moreno
- Fast Food Nation

In a very very bad movie, Moreno is a real standout, marshaling her Connellysian ability to endure pain and suffering as an immigrant forced to work in a meat packing plant. Apparently, not only are the big fast food companies responsible for awful food and the destruction of rain forests, but for also employing misogynist bosses who use their positions to extract sexual favors from their employees. And while the treatment that Moreno endures is indeed shocking, it is to her credit that when she is on the screen, you don't even think to ask what a BJ in a pick-up has to do with the quality of meat at your local McD's.

Hanna Schygulla - Werkmeister Harmonies

Schygulla's Aunt Tünde may be the most frightening element of Werkmeister Harmonies. And this is in a movie that features a giant whale, a "prince" with the ability to destroy a town, a murderous band of local thugs who like to beat up hospital patients, little kids screaming "I'll be hard on you" over and over again into a rotating fan, and government helicopters rounding up dissidents. So great is her power that her former husband György agrees to drop his life-consuming project in order to round up signatures for her. How? Merely by having her suitcases placed by the entrance of his house. After gruffly telling his nephew to "take them to the far side of the house," the old man bundles up to head out into the cold and do her bidding.

Simone Signoret - Army of Shadows

With wins at the Oscars and Cannes under her belt, the late Signoret is certainly the most accomplished actress in the category. I have never seen Room at the Top or some of her early 60s roles, but after seeing her in Jean-Pierre Melville's Army of Shadows, it was a shock to see that she had been in so many racy roles (read: prostitute). To her credit, she is mostly able to conceal her considerable sexuality in the character of the gruff and loyal resistance fighter Mathlide. Like the other actors, Signoret is hesitant to give much away to the camera or her fellow resistance fighters, but in doing so, she creates the most well-rounded character of the movie, and provides an example of how to write a serious role for a woman that doesn't involve the world's oldest profession.

And the Winner is...

Molly Shannon - Marie Antoinette

Heh, heh,
Let's try...

Margo Martindale - Paris Je T'aime (segment "14ème Arrondissement")

In the first dozen or so shorts from Paris Je T'aime, the directors try either for the obvious (the romantic) or the fantastic (mimes, vampires, musicals), but leave it to Alexander Payne to find the transcendent in the most mundane aspect of Parisian life: tourism. While the role was well written, Martindale is simply perfect as the wide-eyed American looking to find some meaning overseas that isn't available back in Denver. While she walks around town trying to communicate with the natives (just watching it made me hurt) we hear her heavily accented French in a letter to the people back home. It may sound corny, but there is a simple realism in her voice, in the quavers, the naive hopes and expectations, that is really heartbreaking. Martindale is a very underutilized actress (for obvious reasons), and I won't even bother to make the argument that so many movies fail because they are full of skinny blonds who pout, but might be trite, but casting directors (ironically, almost always women) would do well to look for this kind of talent more often.

Next Up...Young pretty blond things who mean...Best Actress

Friday, February 1, 2008

Little Murders

Dir. Alan Arkin

Viewed: From the Couch

I thought I was pretty informed on my dark comedies from the '70s. Especially those featuring Elliott Gould and/or Donald Sutherland. So it was with much curiosity that I dropped Little Murders into my queue and saw to it that it quickly (in terms of my Netflix queue) rose from 400 something to the top. This happened after it got plugged by Bill Hader in an interview I saw. What can I say -- I take my recommendations from anywhere -- but when they're in the form of, "Have you seen the first feature length movie Alan Arkin directed? It's this really crazy dark comedy with Elliott Gould," say no more.

I wish I could praise this movie to the mountain tops, and I will to a certain point, but it certainly isn't for everyone, probably not for most people, and more than a little tough to get through. Yet, I highly recommend it. Not only was this movie made in 1971 with major Hollywood talent, it's still off the wall crazy by today's standards and I'd say it's still ahead of it's time over 35 years later. The themes of the film are still as ripe as ever such as people getting into relationships with the idea of changing the other person. While the fact that it's based off a play can make it a bit stagey and dialog/monologue heavy, Arkin does a fine job of shooting it in a cinematic fashion.

The story is about the peculiar romance of Alfred (Elliott Gould) and Patsy (Marcia Rodd). They meet and fall for each other after Patsy breaks up a gang of delinquents that are pummeling Alfred outside her apartment building. It's not so much that four teenagers are beating up one man but that the annoying sounds of a pummeling can really get in the way of sleeping in. Alfred's lack of gratitude intrigues Patsy ("Are you really so down on people or are you just being fashionable?") and after finding out that Alfred is in fact a very curious photographer they begin a courtship and he's eventually led to a diner with her parents. This is a scene to rival Buffalo '66 in terms of awkwardness and Gould's apathy and nonchalance about it all is beautiful. The electricity in her parent's apartment is going on and off with hardly anyone pay it attention, her father -- a never younger Vincent Gardinia -- only knows the setting "boisterous", her teenage brother still likes to wrestle with Patsy and dip into her wardrobe, while the mother calmly puts up with it all until she gets that same heavy breathing phone call that Patsy gets and recounts the tearful tale of the other brother of the family that got shot down in the street by a sniper that is still on the loose.

This doesn't stop the young couple from getting hitched -- as long as God keeps his mitts off the proceedings. Enter Donald Sutherland as the hip padre who's ok with God not getting involved. In fact he's ok with pretty much everything and anything. His monologue is one for the ages and the rest of the wedding is one of those great 70's anarchic montages. Patsy's parent's certainly don't appreciate God being left out of the ceremony and things pretty much end up in a small riot but the main problem ends up being Alfred's unemotional response to all of this and life in general. Which leads Patsy to ask, where are his parents? What did they do to him -- if anything? In a scene that plays like a presaging of Regan's testimony in the Iran-Contra Affair, Alfred gets sent to his parents with a tape recorder and a list of questions.

At this point you might be wondering why the movie is called Little Murders. Good question. But I'm not going to answer that one for you. If you rent the movie you'll find Elliott Gould covered in blood on the dvd's main menu -- but even this is misleading. I'd be spoiling the movie if I gave away the title. Yes, it's a bleak ending to a black comedy. But it's one that perfectly wraps up something you're thinking is impossible to wrap up. And it's certainly one that leaves you thinking about what it is you just watched. Is it a happy ending? No (though it is funny in a feel bad kinda way). But is it completely misanthropic? I don't think so. The loss of life clearly affects this family in a bad bad way, leaving them in a shell-shocked state. What's the answer, how will this family be able to move on? Well, it isn't a visit from Dr. Phil.

It's one of the reasons some people might not like it. It confronts you to look for answers to questions about the dark parts of humanity. It presents an unthinkable solution, but then what would you do?

There's hardly any discussion about Little Murders out there. If you've seen it, drop a line at RFC, it's been months and I'm still kicking this guy around in my head.

So you don't want God in your ceremony, eh? The look on Gould's face almost trumps the amazing monologue.

Donald Sutherland knocks one out of the park.