Tag Archives: Hugo

The Roundup: March 16, 2012

This post was mostly ready last week, but life (and hackers) intervened and delayed me. I spruced it up with some links from this week, but I also had to do a lot of skim reading this week and utilize the dreaded “mark as read” function in GReader, so I’m sure I missed some great posts from people I was following. I’m sorry, I’m really trying to do better. The more I do this, the more I get invested in reading people’s blogs – which is great, but time-consuming. In any case, all these links are well worth your time, even if they are a week or two old at this point.

Featured Links

Past/Not Past: A Tale of Two Cinemas by Adam Cook at The Auteur’s Notebook

It’s difficulty to avoid comparing the two 2011 films that owe a great debt to silent cinema (and cleaned up at the Oscars), but they actually take very different approaches. Hugo is a film ABOUT silent cinema, but set after the silent era, as two kids become acquainted with one of the first motion picture giants, Georges Méliès, and his films. The Artist imitates silent cinema, setting its story in Hollywood in the late 1920s and depicting the transition into sound. I liked both films, but probably enjoyed The Artist a little more – that said, Adam Cook makes a REALLY strong case for why Hugo is actually much more celebratory of silent cinema than The Artist, which subtly undercuts its own nostalgia (probably unintentionally). Really good and thought-provoking piece that made me want to rewatch and re-evaluate both films soon. See also Glenn Kenny discussing Singin’ in the Rain‘s attitude toward silent cinema, in light of the frequent comparisons between it and The Artist.

An Introduction to the Flickchart World of Ranking Films by Emil at A Swede Talks Movies

The movie-ranking website Flickchart has been around for a while, and yet it still seems to fall under the radar a lot of the time. I know a lot of passionate users (disclaimer: I know the founder and a lot of the contributors and once in a while contribute to the Flickchart blog), but I know just as many people who either haven’t heard of it or just checked it out a couple of years ago when it launched and then forgot about it. But they’ve continued innovating, and as of now, I’d say it’s ones of the most useful movie websites I frequent. Fellow Flickcharter Emil has written up a wonderful introduction to it, and though I intend to do a write-up over at Row Three soon (there are a ton of new features since the last time I wrote about the site), I have to defer to Emil for one of the best posts I’ve seen explaining how the site works and what value it has.

John Ford and the Citizen Kane Assumption by Kristen Thompson at Observations on Film Art

Interestingly enough, I just got finished defending How Green Was My Valley‘s Oscar win a week or so ago in my Oscars Rank ‘Em post, and here’s Kristen Thompson doing the same thing, only far more eloquently and in greater detail. She suggests, and I think it’s true, that the film is usually denigrated SOLELY because it beat the apparently untouchable Citizen Kane out for the Oscar. Not only does she point out how unfair that is, but she goes on to discuss exactly why How Green deserved to win the Oscar, and delves a bit into why Citizen Kane gets all the praise and study instead. It’s a really great article on a lot of fronts.

Gone Too Soon Blogathon at Comet Over Hollywood

Comet Over Hollywood hosted a blogathon last weekend devoted to remembering the many classic Hollywood celebrities who passed away far too young. Obvious names like Carole Lombard, Jean Harlow, James Dean, and Marilyn Monroe came up of course, but there are literally dozens of people memoired here, from huge stars to starlets who barely got the chance to make an impression. I haven’t had time to read them all yet, but the ones I have are great. I’d especially point out True Classic’s post on the tragic short adulthood of child star Bobby Driscoll and a two-part piece on Thelma Todd, whose death remains mysterious, from My Love of Old Hollywood.

Travelling Through the Movies by Jessica at The Velvet Cafe

All of Jessica’s posts are simply delightful; basically, if you love film and delightful people and you’re NOT following The Velvet Cafe, you’re doing it wrong. I actually had another one of her posts set for up here (the one on Swedish cinema which is now linked below under “more links”), but this one hit one of my favorite things of all time – traveling. And rather than just do a list of films where people take trips, which would still have come up with a good lot of excellent films, Jessica bases her list around films that explore different aspects of traveling. Everything from road trips to journeys of self to being stuck in airports to feeling lost in an unknown country. It’s a great set of films, and a unique way of looking at them.

Unforgettable Scenes: It’s Still Not Over by Tyler at Southern Vision

I’ve only recently discovered this blog, but I can already tell it’s going to be one of my favorites. Here Tyler takes a scene from Bela Tarr’s Werckmeister Harmonies (which is probably his most accessible film, from what I can gather – it’s the one everyone told me to try when I failed to make it through his 7.5-hour Satantango) and describes his love for it with great eloquence. Like him, I’m not entirely sure I could say why I found Werckmeister Harmonies magical, but I did, and this scene is definitely the part of it that I found the most memorable.

The Woman in the Window by the Self-Styled Siren

Almost every time I’ve mentioned Fritz Lang’s The Woman in the Window since I saw it last year, I’ve said some combination of “it’s a wonderful little film noir, but the ending is a total cop out.” I’m not alone in thinking that, but the Self-Styled Siren disagrees. She defends the ending as intentional, fitting, and more subversive than it seems on first viewing. I’m not sure I’m totally convinced, but she’s definitely given me second thoughts, and I’ll definitely have her thoughts in the back of my head next time I watch the film.

How John Carter Succeeds Where the Star Wars Prequels Failed by Jack Giroux at Film School Rejects

See, see, I’m not only featuring articles about classic films! This one’s only been out, like, ONE WEEK. I haven’t seen it myself, to be honest, though I am curious based on the source novel, Andrew Stanton’s involvement, and the fact that I like big adventure films. But Film School Rejects is going one step farther and acclaiming the film quite highly (most critics are reservedly favorable at best, from what I’ve read). I found this particular article especially interesting, as Giroux runs down what John Carter does right that George Lucas did wrong with the prequels – that’s not necessarily a high bar for praise, but it’s a really solid article. See also Neil Miller’s 7 Reasons to Go See John Carter.

More Links!

Trailers of Interest (or Not)

Headhunters Trailer – this movie is AWESOME
ParaNorman Trailer – one of the more intriguing animated films of the year
Dark Shadows Trailer – the comedy tone threw me a bit; back to Beetlejuice for Burton?
On the Road Trailer – curious to see what Walter Salles does with this material
Ice Age 3: Continental Drift Trailer – pretty sure these are supposed to make me laugh; didn’t work
Men in Black 3 Trailer 2 – this looks ridiculous; of course, I thought that about the first one

Cool Videos

Short film: The Love Connection – very adorable, plus has music by The Pauses, one of whom is a friend
The History of Television – a few omissions, but by and large, this is AWESOME
Creepy, weird, and kind of awesome video for Florence and the Machine’s “Never Let Me Go”
Clap Your Hands Say Yeah splatter paint all over the place in this video for “Hysterical”

Noteworthy News

Scorecard: January 2012

This was a pretty dismal month in terms of movie-watching, but since I was filling my time with things like getting married and going on honeymoons, I guess I can forgive myself for slacking off in the movie department. Got through six new-to-me films this month, including a few new releases that eluded me toward the end of December, and a relatively decent number of rewatches. Now, we’ll have to see in February if the wedding excuse is accurate, or if I just need to buckle down a bit more and watch moar movies.

What I Loved

Haywire

For me, this is exactly what a popcorn action movie should be. It’s not cerebral, it’s not complicated, it’s not flashy, and it doesn’t rewrite any rules of the action thriller genre. But it is solid, well-shot, well-acted, well-directed, as clever as it needs to be, and has some of the best fight scenes I’ve seen ever. The story is pretty much what’s laid out in the trailer – Gina Carano is a private security operative, she’s betrayed by her employers, and then she beats the crap out of them. In real life, Carano is an MMA fighter, and it shows. Every hit looks (and sounds) sickeningly real, and the way she moves, the way she fights, even the way she runs are all totally believable. Soderbergh knows just how to support her, too, holding long shots instead of cutting away, as if to say, yeah, she can really do this. But it’s not just a showcase for a fighter – the story is simple, but it’s effective, and Carano is nearly as convincing an actress as she is a fighter, and the supporting cast is all superb, fitting in perfectly with the ’70s aesthetic Soderbergh pulls out here. I’d trade most any big-budget blockbuster if we could get two mid-budget action films like this in their place.

2012 USA. Director: Steven Soderbergh. Starring: Gina Carano, Ewan McGregor, Michael Fassbender, Channing Tatum, Bill Paxton.
Seen January 21 at Reading Cinemas Gaslamp.
Flickchart ranking: 475 out of 2880

What I Really Liked

Hugo

I was so afraid Scorsese’s early cinema homage masquerading as a children’s film would leave theatres before I got a chance to see it (yes, in 3D; I was hopelessly curious), but either thanks to the sheer number of screens in LA or the multitude of Oscar nominations the film got last week, we made it with time to spare. I’m not sure I can totally say I loved it, though, quite as much as I wanted to. I did really like it, and the last twenty or thirty minutes are like crack if you’re interested in film history or early cinema (which I am), but a lot of the earlier parts of the film are uneven, the comedy with Sascha Baron Cohen doesn’t always totally work, and it’s overlong as a whole. Even so, by the end, I found myself really enjoying even all the day-to-day station vignettes that had kind of annoyed me earlier – whether they really worked better or I was feeling magnanimous because the Méliès stuff was bringing me to tears, I’m not sure. In any case, I walked out happy, even if the confection wasn’t quite cooked all through.

2011 USA. Director: Martin Scorsese. Starring: Asa Butterfield, Chloë Grace Moretz, Ben Kingsley, Sascha Baron Cohen, Emily Mortimer, Christopher Lee.
Seen January 23 at Arclight Sherman Oaks, in 3D.
Flickchart ranking: 510 out of 2880

Carnage

This turned out to be quite difficult to find only a few weeks after its release – we had to hit up the independent theatre chain at 11:00am on a Saturday to see it. I wonder what’s gone wrong with the marketing for this that there’s so little buzz around it? Are people just hating on Polanski that much? Because this is a solid and often hilarious film, with one of the best scripts of the year (unless you’re an Academy member, apparently), performed with vicious glee by four tremendous actors. It all takes place essentially in one room, as two sets of parents meet to discuss what’s to be done after one of their sons brains the other pair’s son with a stick. The situation quickly devolves from forced politesse to frank screaming, and everything in between. Informal alliances between characters shift rapidly, as it becomes clear that these couples’ marriages aren’t all they should be, and months and years of repressed frustration come out. But yes, despite all this, this is a laugh-out-loud comedy, with all four actors clearly enjoying the hell out of it – none more than Christophe Waltz, who proves Inglourious Basterds was no fluke. Pretty lightweight when you get down to it, but a whole lot of fun.

2011 France/Germany/Poland/Spain. Director: Roman Polanski. Starring: Kate Winslet, Jodie Foster, Christoph Waltz, John C. Reilly.
Seen January 28 at Laemmle NoHo.
Flickchart ranking: 525 out of 2880

Drop Dead Gorgeous

I gotta say, I was a little surprised when Jonathan picked this out as one of the films he wanted me to watch. I mean, a movie about a bunch of girls vying for a beauty pageant crown? But it wasn’t very far into the film that I understood. Miss Congeniality this ain’t. It’s a mockumentary in the style of Christopher Guest, with a bunch of soon-to-be-famous starlets as the Minnesota girls (seriously, we were all like, hold up, is that Amy Adams? AND IT WAS) trying to win their podunk town’s pageant, from feted favorite Denise Richards (and her stage mom Kirstie Alley) to trailer park resident Kirsten Dunst, and everything in between. I’m pretty sure a good chunk of the reason Jonathan likes it can be traced to the satire on Minnesota itself, but everything else is pretty spot-on as well. This film should’ve gotten way more attention than it did – I remember it coming out, but only as a little blip on my late ’90s pop-culture consciousness. And I was watching everything in 1999. Almost not exaggerating there.

1999 USA. Director: Michael Patrick Jann. Starring: Kirsten Dunst, Ellen Barkin, Kirstie Alley, Denise Richards, Amy Adams, Brittany Murphy.
Seen January 27 on DVD.
Flickchart ranking: 717 out of 2880

What I Liked

Down Terrace

I missed watching this when other film blogs were talking about it a year or two ago, but after loving Kill List, I had to go back and check out Ben Wheatley’s earlier film, said to be in the same vein in terms of out-of-the-box genre filmmaking, but applied to gangster films instead of hit-men and horror. There are definitely resemblances, though Kill List is a step up in confidence, I think. Down Terrace starts off really slow and casual, to the point that it’s really difficult to figure out what even is going on or who these guys are as they sit around and chat. But that’s all very deliberate, and when shit starts going down, SHIT GOES DOWN. I’m still not totally sure what the ground zero event was that set everything in motion, but it doesn’t really matter – what matters is how it plays out, with suspicion leading to accusation leading to murder leading to cover-ups, etc. Plus there are a lot of surprisingly funny scenes, like when a cleaner comes to take care of a potential loose end but brought his kid along and thus can’t get with the violence the way he needs to in order to finish the job. The beginning is a bit of a slog, but it’s definitely worth it for the second half.

2010 UK. Director: Ben Wheatley. Starring: Robin Hill, Robert Hill, Julia Deakin, Michael Smiley.
Seen January 29 via Instant Watch.
Flickchart ranking: 1064 out of 2880

Casanova

It’s pretty unusual for the Silent Treatment folks to show a non-American film; generally it’s rare and forgotten Hollywood films that they pull out of their vaults, but this time around they snagged a French film with a Russian director and cross-European cast, telling the oft-told story of Italy’s most famous lover. Of course, with silent film this doesn’t matter very much (and didn’t then, as intertitles don’t present as much of a language barrier problem as subtitling). The film itself is a pretty good romp, following Casanova through various love affairs and skirmishes with angry husbands and the law, including a bit of a tussle with Catherine the Great herself. The tone of the film is difficult to pin down, alternately comic and melodramatic, with a bit of rather fun if totally unbelievable special effects as Casanova convinces one town official he’s a magician. It’s a bit overlong, too, and suffers a lot from the fact that in the 18th century, everybody wore white wigs that made them all look identical. Especially the women – I know based on how Casanova acted that a few of them were repeat lovers, but I couldn’t tell you who or how they all fit into the narrative. Still, lead actor Ivan Mozzhukhin is pretty charming – thanks to his stellar career in Europe, he was hand-picked by Carl Laemmle to be the next Valentino, but conflicts with the studio and the coming of sound forestalled his American career after only one film.

1927 France. Director: Alexandre Volkoff. Starring: Ivan Mozzhukhin, Suzanne Bianchetti, Diana Karenne.
Seen January 4 at Cinefamily.
Flickchart ranking: 1620 out of 2880

Rewatches – Loved

Pierrot le fou

I missed a good bit of Cinefamily’s Godard retrospective due to being out of town, but of all of them, this is probably the one I wanted to share with Jonathan the most (outside of Band of Outsiders, which I made sure to show him very early in our relationship, heh), so I’m glad the scheduling worked out. For me, Pierrot le fou is the culmination of Godard’s pre-1968 style – not his most extreme (Week End) or most elusive (2 or 3 Things I Know About Her) or most pop cultury (Made in USA), but the most coherently synthesized example of his style and themes, starring his two most enduring and iconic actors. Plus, it’s a whole lot of fun. This is probably the fifth time I’m seen it, so I don’t really have anything new to say from this viewing, except that I loved it once again, and was very glad to see it in a theatre full of people who actually understood it’s a comedy. The first time I saw it was in a museum screening, and my gosh those people didn’t even crack a smile ONCE. It’s okay to laugh when things are funny. Just saying.

1965 France. Director: Jean-Luc Godard. Starring: Jean-Paul Belmondo, Anna Karina.
Seen January 25th at Cinefamily.
Flickchart ranking: 44 out of 2880

L.A. Confidential

It’s been several years since I last saw L.A. Confidential, and I honestly wasn’t sure it would hold up. AFter all, last time I saw it, I was a greenhorn at the whole movie game, just barely starting to get into film noir at all – now that I knew more about what L.A. Confidential was homaging, would the homage seem as good? But I think the film actually improved for me this time around. There’s not a wasted moment here, and that’s a wonderful thing in a movie longer than two hours (it feels much, much shorter). The balance between the mystery and the character arcs is held perfectly, and while there’s not a lot of humor, a sardonic wryness sneaks through anyway (and a broader irony overlays thanks to Danny DeVito’s tabloid voiceover). The cast is magnificent, introducing Guy Pearce and Russell Crowe to American audiences with a bang that I’m not sure either of them have totally matched since, and the narrative unfolds its twisty-turny path with remarkable clarity, yet without ever hand-holding or condescending. It’s a fantastic film, and putting fifteen years on its clock hasn’t changed that a bit. (Relatedly, HOLY CRAP, L.A. Confidential is fifteen years old.)

1997 USA. Director: Curtis Hanson. Starring: Guy Pearce, Russell Crowe, Kevin Spacey, Kim Basinger, Danny DeVito, James Cromwell.
Seen January 19 on DVD.
Flickchart ranking: 88 out of 2880

Rewatches – Liked

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang

I watched this along with L.A. Confidential for a podcast, and like L.A. Confidential, it had been a while since I first saw it. Unlike L.A. Confidential, however, I hadn’t loved Kiss Kiss Bang Bang the first time I saw it. Thinking back, I couldn’t really pinpoint why nor remember the movie that well (though my capsule review that I unearthed after rewatching it is pretty spot-on), so I’d been meaning to rewatch anyway. Especially since I know a lot of people who practically worship this movie. And….it’s still fun, and I still don’t love it. It’s a bit too clever and stuck on making everything funny to actually make its story work. That isn’t always a problem for me, but in this case, writer-director Shane Black tried to have his cake and eat it too, and didn’t quite make it, though he came close. See also my Rewatched and Reconsidered post on Row Three.

2005 USA. Director: Shane Black. Starring: Robert Downey, Jr., Val Kilmer, Michelle Monaghan.
Seen January 16 via Zune Marketplace.
Flickchart ranking: 945 out of 2880

Week End

I happened to be volunteering for Cinefamily one of the nights this played, or I probably wouldn’t have rushed back to see it. Or maybe I would have, because my experience with Godard tends to be that I don’t totally get his films the first time I watch them, but the second or third time they click and become, like, my favorite film of all time. Slight exaggeration, but not by much. Maybe the same thing would happen with Week End? Only kinda sorta. There are a lot of things about Week End that I like very much, even love. Actually, I’d say I love the whole first 2/3 or so, with the petit bourgeous couple wandering through the French countryside aimlessly. It’s savagely funny, and bits here and there are awesome (like when they hit another woman’s car and start driving off, and the other woman tries to get them by serving tennis balls at them; or when they interrupt Jean-Pierre Leaud having a sung conversation in a phone booth; or yes, like the traffic jam). But the film flies completely off the rails for me toward the end, just before they run into the cannibals. Up until this point, the narrative at least follows some internal sense of flow, but it breaks just there, and never recovers. I get that Godard is being purposefully confrontational and to some extent “destroying” cinema, and I don’t mind that, but after that point, the film just doesn’t work for me.

1967 France. Director: Jean-Luc Godard. Starring: Jean Yanne, Mireille Darc.
Seen January 11 at Cinefamily.
Flickchart ranking: 1617 out of 2880