Video essayist Kogonada tends to let images and editing speak for themselves, and that’s precisely what he does here (with a slight bit of added Godard-esque typography, mostly to translate French audio), juxtaposing shots from various 1960-1967 Godard films to highlight recurring techniques. It’s pretty obvious to anyone who watches Godard’s early work that he had some specific things on his mind, but seeing it put together like this with excellent music and editing choices is mesmerizing and wonderful.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
I have been severely lacking in time to get my link love posts finished (or read other blogs, to be honest…sorry guys!). Some of these have been sitting in a draft post for weeks now, but the posts are good enough (and not time sensitive) that I still want to draw attention to them for anyone who hasn’t happened to read them yet.
Lucking Out and Pauline Kael: A Life in the Dark by The Self-Styled Siren
There have been a whole lot of posts about Pauline Kael lately, thanks to the recent publication of a new collection of her writings, a new biography of her by Brian Kellow, and a new memoir by James Wolcott that includes many memories of her. This one from the Self-Styled Siren is one of the best, discussing both Kellow’s and Wolcott’s accounts as well as her own uneasy relationship with Kael’s criticism. And that’s a theme among most of the posts, as it is in my own life. I first became aware of Kael as a young film buff, probably thirteen or so, from 5001 Nights at the Movies, a collection of her New Yorker capsule reviews. I didn’t like her at all, finding her dismissive of things I loved for what I thought were all the wrong reasons. I didn’t read anything else of hers for years, until I forced myself to read some of her long-form essays and found someone impassioned about film but incredibly idiosyncratic about it. I still find her difficult much of the time, but she can also be really insightful. The Siren gets at all this and much more. See also articles from Jim Emerson, Dennis Cozzalio, and Glenn Kenny.
It Ain’t the Meat (It’s the Motion): Thoughts
on movie technique and movie criticism by Jim Emerson at scanners::blog
I almost included this essay among the Kael essays linked as “also sees” above, but it really deserves its own place. It starts off dealing with a bunch of quotes either from or about Kael regarding the question of technique and style – Kael resolutely refused to discuss technique on any technical level, arguing that the general public didn’t give a damn and privileging emotional impact over technique. Emerson distinguishes between “technical” and “technique”, showing how an understanding and explication of technique doesn’t necessarily have to be presented technically to readers, but also wrestling with the core of Kael’s populist stance.
Not Appearing in This Film: The Silent Movie Career of Carole Lombard – Sort Of by The Mythical Monkey
A fun piece submitted for a Carole Lombard blogathon in October (yeah, told you some of these were rather old), this one looks back on a part of Carole Lombard’s career that I frankly didn’t know existed. If you’d asked me, I would’ve said Lombard started in film in the early ’30s (I think 1932’s Supernatural is the earliest Lombard film I could name), but I would have been wrong. She actually started in film as early as 1921, when she was twelve. But she’s either invisible in most of these films, the films are lost, or they’re exceedingly lackluster. Still, the Mythical Monkey seeks out what he can, and brings forth a fascinating picture of a beautiful girl who never quite found her niche until screwball comedy came along with 1934’s Twentieth Century.
In Profile: The Life and Films of Bong Joon-ho by Jordan Winter at Anomalous Material
So far in my admittedly limited experience, Korean cinema is pretty fantastic (I think I’ve seen eleven or twelve Korean films and basically loved them all), and Bong Joon-ho is right at the center of it right now. He’s got the crowd-pleasing, genre-bending The Host, and the critical darling Memories of Murder, and a whole lot else. Jordan Winter runs through his whole filmography, finding patterns and connections among the films as well as charting a trajectory for his career, which I certainly hope is only beginning.
Pioneers of Animation: Winsor McKay by Brandie at True Classics
Winsor McCay is justly credited as one of the creators of animation, being one of the first cartoonists to move his drawings to the screen and figure out how to make them move – not only that, he was one of the first to give his animated creations personality and interaction. Brandie has written a great rundown of his career, both as cartoonist and animator (because the two were inextricably connected), and of his importance to early cinema and to animation as we know it today.
Sometimes, You Have to Come Back to The Tree of Life by Greg Ferrara at CinemaStyles
I loved The Tree of Life the minute I saw it, but not everyone did, and I respect that. Greg didn’t love it the first time he saw it, but he went back and watched it again, and this piece is a result of that second viewing. And it’s wonderful. Not only because he now agrees with my love of the film, but because it’s such a lovely piece about how to watch any film, how to let it get hold of you, and because it’s hard to admit complete changes of mind. It’s less of an “aha, got it” moment here, and more that the film just didn’t let him go, and his way of expressing that is perfect.
Sound and Vision: Charlie Chaplin and the Sound of Silence by Carly at the Kitty Packard Pictorial
Charlie Chaplin is well known for continuing to make silent films (well, two of them, at any rate) well into the sound era. But it’s maybe not quite as well known how important sound and music were to him, even in the silent era. He played and wrote music himself, and was one of the earliest people to provide theatres with fully-written score to be played alongside his silents. I knew he wrote scores for some of his films, but I had no idea how deep his appreciation and use of music went until reading this excellently researched and presented article.
Happy Birthday, Louise Brooks by The Mythical Monkey
I try not to include multiple articles from the same source, but this post has been so long in the making that people are oustripping my ability to do that without skipping over great posts. So I had to let a couple of people in here twice. I know virtually nothing about Louise Brooks other than that her hairstyle started a bob craze and that she was in two highly regarded G.W. Pabst films, Pandora’s Box and The Diary of a Lost Girl. Reading this article was a treat, but a sobering one, as Brooks’ life and career seemed constantly undermined by mismanagement and her own poor decisions, despite her obvious talent and appeal. By the end, I really wanted to order a do-over for her – and recommitted myself to seeing whatever films of hers I can find.
Diabolique by Chris at Silent Volume
Chris has been eschewing his usual silent cinema posting diet due to a Clouzot retrospective going on in Toronto, and all his reviews from that are worth reading, but I really liked this one because it both reminded me that I need to rewatch Diabolique and gave me a lot of things to think about that I hadn’t thought of before for when I do, especially in relation to its use of genre. Like, it’s usually billed as a thriller or sometimes a film noir, but I hadn’t really considered how close to horror territory it comes – I’m definitely going to look for way that it genre-bends next time I watch it.
The Great Citizen Kane Debate at True Classics
You can’t run around in film buff circles for five minutes before finding out that Citizen Kane is considered the finest film of all time by many, many people. You can’t run around in such circles for more than ten minutes before finding out that many other people think Citizen Kane is hopelessly overrated. The girls at True Classics take this debate to blogathon form, asking people to write pieces either for or against Kane as the greatest film of all time. I’ve seen the film five or six times and still don’t know which side I come down on, so I didn’t write anything for it, but the bloggers who did participate have some really good perspectives, definitely proving the debate is far from settled.
Czech New Wave series at Bonjour Tristesse
Bonjour Tristesse does a good many marathons to catch up on specific genres of film, and does a WAY better job than I do of actually following through on these marathons. Right now, the Czech New Wave is under scrutiny, at the rate of a few films per week. I’ve seen a few of these films myself, and it’s definitely a movement I like and want to see more of – I’m watching the progress here closely to help guide my own eventual viewing.
Godard Series: Pierrot le fou, etc. at Andy Buckle’s Film Emporium
Meanwhile, Andy Buckle has chosen Jean-Luc Godard, a filmmaker very close to my own heart, as his director of the month, and is going through at least all his major 1960s films. I’m not sure how far he intends to go, and really, there’s no reason I chose to link the Pierrot le fou review as opposed to any of the others, except that Pierrot le fou is one of my favorite Godard films and I think Andy wrote about it very well. Check his “Classic Throwback” category for more reviews – he’s going pretty much in chronological order.
I had meant to do this feature every week or so, but with film festivals and other commitments, I haven’t had very much time to read other sites or gather good links. That being the case, some of these are several weeks old and you may have already read them. But in case you haven’t, I still think they’re worth taking a look at.
The Cultural Vegetables Debate – Dan Kois, A.O. Scott, Manohla Dargis, Jim Emerson, Glenn Kenny, AND MORE
It all started with this article in the New York Times Magazine, when Dan Kois admitted that he has a tough time watching certain critically-acclaimed movies (especially slow-moving ones like Solaris or Meek’s Cutoff) and terming them “cultural vegetables.” Fellow NYT critics A.O. Scott and Manohla Dargis responded with “In Defense of the Slow and Boring”, arguing that slow and boring isn’t necessarily bad, and what’s more, often mainstream films like The Hangover Part II are far more boring than arthouse slow cinema like Meek’s Cutoff. Soon, other critics and bloggers put in their two cents as well, including Glenn Kenny, Jim Emerson, Richard Brody, Matt Singer, Bilge Elibri, Vadim Rizov, etc. Andrew O’Hehir’s article in Salon may summarize things the best. Then Kois, Scott, and Dargis all got together for a follow-up article. And now Glenn Kenny is tired of the whole thing. In a way, it’s gotten blown out of proportion from Kois’s original personal and sincere article, but the various points brought up by various authors are all very interesting and enlightening, to one degree or another, in a culture where both critics and laypeople can feel marginalized by the other.
Comment on “No Comment” – Ignatiy Vishnevetsky at Mubi
The last frame of Jean-Luc Godard’s lastest film is the text “No Comment,” which many have interpreted as Godard’s sort-of playful, sort-of standoffish way of deflecting criticism, a way of tossing a bunch of seemingly nonsensical images up on screen for 90 minutes and then refusing to respond to questions or criticisms of them. Vishnevetsky argues that instead, Godard is declining authorial control, inviting the audience to participate in making meaning of his film. In short, it’s not a dismissal, but a deferral, and rather than being standoffish and closed, the ending slide is open and welcoming. This fits with how I see Godard’s early films, as well as his tendency to make films about the death of cinema as well as the death of language.
10 Best Michelle Williams Performances – Kevyn Knox at Anomalous Material
I see I’m not alone in my belief that Michelle Williams is possibly the best Hollywood actress of our generation, and Kevyn Knox has gathered together a slew of performances that prove it. I’m ashamed to admit that I have only seen a handful of these – looks like I’ve got a lot more Williams to discover, which is a wonderful thing.
Academics vs. Critics: Never the Twain Shall Meet? – David Bordwell in Film Comment
Bordwell outlines the somewhat tense relationship between what he terms “cinephile critics” and academics – the difference between someone like Andrew Sarris, who popularized the auteur theory in the United States and had a deep understanding of film history and art that showed through his weekly reviews and columns at the Village Voice (and later the New York Observer), and someone like Christian Metz, who used linguistic theory to probe how audiences process visual narratives. It’s a line that I’ve struggled to understand myself, as I have just enough academic in me to want to sometimes use esoteric theory or historical minutiae when thinking about film, but I also identify strongly with the Sarris-style cinephile critic. Bordwell actually argues that the twain can and should meet, noting the different purposes each type of criticism is for and how the two can be complementary.
Blu-ray Consumer Guide, June 2011 – Glenn Kenny at Some Came Running
Kenny runs through an amazingly long list of Blu-ray releases, with a paragraph on each talking a little bit about the film and whether it’s worthwhile, but mostly about this particular blu-ray release and what it does or does not bring to the table. It’s a daunting post even to read; I pale at the amount of work (both writing and viewing all the discs) that must’ve gone into it, but the recommendations or warnings are very welcome. Discs discussed include: A.I., All the President’s Men, early Antonioni, The Black Pirate, Blow Out, The Comancheros, Diabolique, Great Dictator, Kes, Lolita, Once Upon a Time in the West, The Outlaw Josey Wales, Pale Flower, Senso, Some Like It Hot, El Topo, Topsy Turvy, and a lot more. A lot of Criterions, but that’s fine with me!
Kiss Me Deadly: The Thriller of Tomorrow – J. Hoberman at Criterion Current
Kiss Me Deadly just came out on Criterion DVD and Blu-ray, and J. Hoberman looks at the film in its historical context – especially the way it uses and modifies Mickey Spillane’s basically amoral “hero” Mike Hammer as a comment on modern society, and the relationship the film and its director Robert Aldrich had with the McCarthyism running rampant at the time of its release. The film is a great one on a straight crime noir level; I’m looking forward to rewatching with more of a historical context in mind.
“It’s Just a Bit of Fun”: Why Defensive Fans Are Bad News for Movies – Helen O’Hara at Empire Online
Whenver a Hollywood blockbuster comes out and film critics lambast it, there’s always a chorus of “but it’s just supposed to be fun, stop bashing it” from commenters and fans of Hollywood blockbusters. The latest round is in relation to Transformers: The Dark of the Moon, and Empire Online put up this piece in response to the comments they’ve been receiving on their review of the film. O’Hara makes a lot of great points, and so do several of the commenters on this post, about critics responding to blockbusters, and how it’s okay to want more from blockbusters – not necessarily that they be Citizen Kane, that would be silly, but that they aspire to the greatness of blockbusters like Back to the Future or The Terminator, which had good scripts, storytelling, and acting, and were also a whole lot of fun. As O’Hara puts it, why wouldn’t you want “a film that has giant robots but is also a good film?” (her emphasis) Amen.
Initial Reaction: The Tree of Life – Kevin J. Olsen at Hugo Stiglitz Makes Movies
Although Kevin put up a full review a few days after this initial post, I love this stream-of-consciousness approach to Tree of Life. The film itself follows an associative logic rather than a linear narrative logic, and as Kevin points out, it’s difficult to talk about such an unconventional film in a conventional writing style. I think this bulleted list of things the film made him think about and associations it drove him to make is possibly the best way to talk about Tree of Life.
Misreading the Tomatometer – Jim Emerson at scanners::blog
It’s something I’ve said time and time again, but Emerson explains quite well how the Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer works – that 75% Fresh means 75% of critics gave it a positive review (that is, somewhere between 5 and 10 on a ten point ranking scale), not that all critics gave it a 7.5 out of 10. You could theoretically have a movie that’s 100% Fresh because every critic gave it a 6 out of 10 – that’s an extreme and unlikely example, but the system is highly imprecise. He also goes into the difficulties of assigning a positive/negative score to mixed reviews that don’t use a star or numeral ranking system. There are good ways to use Rotten Tomatoes (like as a portal to actually read a bunch of reviews), and the Tomatometer score isn’t always a bad indicator of general critical climate, but it needs to be understood properly to be very useful.
I‘m starting to get back in the swing of reading other blogs again (I know, I’m a bad blog citizen), and wanted to start sharing some of my favorite things I’m reading – mostly film blogs, naturally, but if I find something in other areas that I think is particularly noteworthy I’ll probably give it a shout-out, too. Like this week, there’s one on gaming that I thought was pretty good. I’m gonna try to get some variety in there, but don’t be surprised if you see some of the same people popping up over and over. What can I say, some people just give good blog. So anyway, go check out these posts and bloggers and leave them some comment love if you like what you see!
Note: Photos and videos I particularly like may show up in my Tumblr rather than here, or at least earlier than here. The newest Tumblr entry is always showing at the bottom of my home page, but the rest is always there, waiting.
A prayer beneath the Tree of Life – Roger Ebert
A post on Roger Ebert’s personal blog rather than a review, this reverie on Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life points out the film’s prayer-like attributes and discusses the very personal ways the film touched Ebert, and explores how well the film evokes one’s own memories. I don’t even have memories of growing up in the 1950s, and yet Malick’s film allows me the same “memories,” or similar ones – not as real as Ebert’s, of course, but nonetheless true. This is the power of Malick’s film.
Review: The Tree of Life – Jake at Not Just Movies
A more indepth look at The Tree of Life, and a review that said most of what I think without me having to formulate words (which I’m not sure I can do yet). I find most intriguing the effect that the film is having on non-religious people (which both Ebert and Jake are), because it’s not very different from the effect it had on me, in terms of being able to evoke a deep spirituality and even religiosity without actually having any dogmatic particulars at all. Jake compares it to a wordless piece of music, like Bach’s Mass in B minor, a comparison which makes an awful lot of sense.
Opening Shots: The New World – David Nicol at scanners::blog
From the most recent Malick to the first Malick I personally saw. Jim Emerson has started up (or revived, to be more accurate) a series on his always-excellent scanners::blog analyzing opening scenes of movies, and invited others to submit their own analyses. This one from Dr. David Nicol gets a surprising amount of depth out of the very simple water-reflection shot that opens The New World.
Jean-Luc Godard’s Film Socialisme Seeks to End Language – Landon Palmer at Film School Rejects
With Godard’s latest opus coming out in theatres this month, we’re getting another rash of reviews, both positive and negative. Landon Palmer hits the nail on the head, I think, and in an eminently readable way.
George Stevens’ Giant, in One Scene – The Self-Styled Siren
The Siren provides a close reading on the diner fight scene Giant, which she convincingly argues incapsulates the whole of the film in its treatment of anti-Mexican bigotry and of main character Bick Benedict’s changing attitude toward it that comes to head in this scene. It’s been a long time since I saw Giant, and I wasn’t a huge fan, but this piece definitely makes me want to go give it another look. She also includes the YouTube clip of the scene.
Thumbnail Reviews: Douglas Fairbanks in 1916 – The Mythical Monkey Writes About the Movies
The Mythical Monkey has been going through the 1910s, providing tons of invaluable and well-presented information about the first decade of feature-length filmmaking. This post has short reviews of almost all of the dozen movies Douglas Fairbanks was in during 1916. I consider it a remarkable achievement to even see all these films (it’s also somewhat remarkable that only one is lost), and I’ve definitely added a couple to my list to check out if Cinefamily ever plays them.
Alignment, Allegiance, and Murder – David Bordwell
Bordwell takes a bit of time to introduce concepts of narrative point of view and character identification, which he recasts (following Murray Smith) as alignment and allegiance, then does a close reading with an abundance of screencaps of a scene from Fritz Lang’s House by the River, showing how the audience’s alignment and allegiance are subtly shifted from one character to another throughout the course of one scene, merely by how Lang sets up the shots and blocking. A great example of formalist criticism, showing how important composition is, even though we rarely realize it consciously while watching films.
The Forgotten: Negative Space/Capability/Attitude – David Cairns at Mubi
David watches Von Morgens Bis Mitternacht (From Morn to Midnight), a 1920 German Expressionist film that, judging by the screencaps, is pretty much the most extreme German Expressionist film I’ve ever seen. He also watched it without subtitles, yielding musings on “negative capability,” or the ability to enjoy things without fully understanding them. For that thought and for the glorious screencaps, I share this post.
What Adults Want From Games – Matthew Keast at GamesRadar
As the average age of gamers is now solidly in the mid-30s, I kind of wonder why so many games still seem steeped in immaturity and adolescent fantasies, and so does Matthew Keast. Well, he’s got a bunch of things that he’d like to see more of (or less of) as an adult gamer, and I agree with almost all of them, from better age controls for online play to more games based on story and character instead of violence and titillation. Several commenters on his piece pointed out that they are under 18 (thus not adult according to his criteria for the post) and agree with him, suggesting that the kinds of experiences he’s calling for are desired by even more of the population. Game developers, please listen!