crisp filmy - 3 weeks of Metal Gear!

crisp filmy - Week of 5/26/08

crisp filmy - Weeks of 5/12/08 & 5/19/08

crisp filmy - Week of 5/5/08

Beyond the Valley of the Dolls (1970) - 2/5 - I just cannot figure this one out. A large part of me believes that Roger Ebert is too smart and has too much film knowledge to knowingly make something this bad. It's a completely stupid movie and offers almost nothing rewarding, but at the same time, I can't help but wonder if it's some big inside joke that 99.99% of viewers won't get. I sort of enjoyed the nonsensical dialogue in spots and the sheer feeling of wondering what the hell I'm watching. But, other than that, nobody needs me to tell them what makes this thing suck so much.

Shadow of Forgotten Ancestors (1964) - 5/5 - Well, talk about an unconventional film. This is one of those rare films that seems to just re-invent cinematic language as it sees fit and yet seems to be have been largely ignored. Everything in Paradjanov's film seems unorthodox; the camera seems to pan and careen at extreme angles, framing the action in strange and beautiful ways, the Hutsul music makes everything sound so foreign and abstract, the camera lingers on odd moments, cutting whenever you least expect it. It's amazing that it all works so well, or perhaps it's because everything is so strange that it makes such a compelling whole. Sometimes, the film reminds me of Tarkovsky because I find myself entranced by the most normal, seemingly benign moments (the simple camera movements in a minor scene where a young boy and girl jump into a river is breathtaking). But, Paradjanov's closest cinematic kin seems to be Werner Herzog, to me. Both men present their art in a unique cinematic language that's unmistakable, finding beauty and truth in their own-off kilter worlds.

Two-Lane Blacktop (1971) - 4/5 - For so long, I thought this was just another one of those counter-culture drag-racing/road movies, so I was a bit surprised that it's actually a languid existential character study...sort of. For the most part, it works very well. The atmosphere is there, you get into its rhythm as you begin to feel like you're a part of this odyssey across Route 66. You admire the scenery as you hear the engines roar. But, sometime in the second half, I really started to lose interest. The focus seems to shift more towards the threadbare plot and away from the atmosphere and characterization. Unfortunately, most of the American movies from this era seem to be poorly dated, never really achieving that timeless feel of the true classics.

Pulse (2001) - 4/5 - Pulse/Kairo is a great example of how expectations can shape a first viewing. I'd heard a lot of raves about this terrifying Japanese horror film, only to discover it's anything but. I remember watching it, being bored, being confused, not feeling anything and, ultimately, not caring. I'd read a few pieces after returning the disc, realizing it's more of a meditation on loneliness and alienation than a straight horror movie. That said, I still ultimately thought it was just a bore. But, time went by (a lot of time, actually) and I felt the strange urge to see it again. I read more about it, here and there, and the themes started to click with me, so I gave it another rent.

The atmosphere is amazing. Knowing what to expect, understanding it and getting on the same wavelength, I found myself completely lost in the film's rhythm. Oddly enough, watching the movie this time was unsettling and left me petrified at moments. Once again, this shows that film is primarily based on feeling and emotion. The feelings of dread were based on the mood and more what the film suggested rather than showed. It does feel a bit slow in parts and leaves you feeling a bit lost and confused (not to mention hopeless and desperate), but I think that's the film's intent, anyway.

Repulsion (1965) - 5/5 - This UK import disc has been on my shelf for over a year, because that's just how I roll (I guess). The right moment came and I was just blown away, of course. Never before have I seen such a subjective film. It's shocking, unsettling, surreal and brilliant. The abstract visuals and sound work in perfect harmony, like the important stretches of silence, for example. There's one amazing moment where Carol walks down a hallway and the camera follows her at a much slower pace, then rockets towards her as she opens the door and just stops in place as she does- it's incredibly effective. There's not much else to say that hasn't been said before, it's just great and I'm glad I finally got around to experiencing it.

The X-Files (1998) - 4/5 - Feels like a few episodes from the best runs of the show, which is a very good thing. Lots of intrigue and thrills with quite a bit of fan service. A lot of what makes the show great and very little of what brings it down.

Cruel Story of Youth (1960) - 4/5 - I really kept going back and forth while watching this. The whole film seems to lack a sort of cohesion, not uncommon for films of the era. A few times, the cinematography looked excellent and I loved the details that Takashi Kawamata's camera picks up, but most of the time, it struck me as very bland and flat, lacking color and not making much good use of the 2.35:1 frame. The story starts out a bit slow and lackluster, but I found myself more fascinated as time went on and as the story got more tragic. I actually found that I liked the character or Makoto's sister the most, full of longing and discontent but continuing to struggle silently in the background of the film and society. I suppose Kiyoshi is one of cinema's great conflicted figures, though it is a bit excessive; for the most part, I have no idea why he did or said what he did, in any case.

The Siege (1998) - 3/5 - I was reading about Melville's Army of Shadows recently and never truly realized how powerful the opening images of the German troops marching down Champs-Élysées were for French audiences at the time. I suppose The Siege has that same sort of effect, it's quite a sight to see the mass of Army troops stationed in New York City during the film. Actually, there's a lot to like about the film, it explores a lot of great ideas regarding the nature of terrorism itself and the methods use to counter it. I hadn't noticed his name before the film, but Roger Deakins did the cinematography and it really shines when given the chance. Unfortunately, the whole film is clearly a product of the Hollywood system, so the whole thing loses a lot of the creative promise shown in parts. The plot is very trite and predictable, with all of the trademark 'twists-and-turns' intact and none of the performances go beyond what's expected of a modern thriller, which is a shame, because it feels like it could have been so much more.

Favorite Films - New and Revised!

So, in case someone stumbles upon this and wants to know me a little better, here's my 32 39 35 favorite films, in alphabetical order.

8 1/2 - Federico Fellini (1963)
The 400 Blows - Francois Truffaut (1959)
Annie Hall - Woody Allen (1977)
Apocalypse Now - Francis Ford Coppola (1979)
Bicycle Thieves - Vittorio De Sica (1948)
Breaking the Waves - Lars von Trier (1996)
Bringing Up Baby - Howard Hawks (1938)
Casablanca - Michael Curtiz (1942)
Clockwork Orange - Stanley Kubrick (1971)
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind - Michel Gondry (2004)
Fanny and Alexander - Ingmar Bergman (1982)
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas - Terry Gilliam (1998)
Fight Club - David Fincher (1999)
Finding Nemo - Andrew Stanton, Lee Unkrich (2003)
Goodfellas - Martin Scorsese (1990)
Grizzly Man - Werner Herzog (2005)
Hedwig and the Angry Inch - John Cameron Mitchell (2001)
Ikiru - Akira Kurosawa (1952)
Kill Bill - Quentin Tarantino (2003/2004)
The Lady Vanishes - Alfred Hitchcock (1938)
A League of Their Own - Penny Marshall (1992)
The Mirror - Andrei Tarkovsky (1975)
My Life as a Dog - Lasse Hallstrom (1985)
Naked - Mike Leigh (1993)
Notorious - Alfred Hitchcock (1946)
Raging Bull - Martin Scorsese (1980)
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937)
Stalker - Andrei Tarkovsky (1979)
La Strada - Federico Fellini (1954)
Taxi Driver - Martin Scorsese (1976)
Le Trou - Jacques Becker (1960)
True Romance - Tony Scott (1993)
Werckmeister Harmonies - Bela Tarr (2000)
Whisper of the Heart - Yoshifumi Kondo (1995)
Wild Strawberries - Ingmar Bergman (1957)

Gates of Heaven (1978)

Gates of Heaven (1978)

If you remember, over a year ago I posted my thoughts on a few works by documentary filmmaker Errol Morris. I've been in a cinema funk lately, which explains my lack of posts, but I thought it'd be interesting to revisit some of these films now and capture my thoughts on them.

Gates of Heaven should be a simple movie. A man opens up a pet cemetery, which has its own ups and downs. Halfway through Morris profiles another man who owns a pet cemetery and maintains it along with his sons. Interviews with pet owners are interspersed throughout. Yet, in Morris' hands, something so easy and safe becomes so much more, which is a testament to the power of cinema and moreover, the documentary.

On a basic level, the movie frustrates me to no end. In more than 20 years of watching movies, I've become accustomed to easy answers, and I think we all have. Even a lot of the masters of cinema make their films this way without even thinking. Seeing as how the majority of people would see film not as an artform but as entertainment, this isn't a truly bad thing. Even for others, film does hold that innate quality that makes it an easy escape, and a lot of films are so much better being just that. But Gates of Heaven, like all of Errol Morris' work, doesn't do the work for you, doesn't lay everything on the table, doesn't hold your hand and guide you. It would be easy for him to shoot a scene and say "okay, here's a character and here's what they say, which makes you feel this way and makes you think this" and leave it at that. Cinema in the hands of Morris retains its basic neutrality and presents the subjects and events in a frank and unadorned manner, leaving the viewer to think his own thoughts and feel his own emotions.

While part of my brain rejects this approach, another part is stimulated like it never has been before and immediately goes to work. On a basic emotional level, this results in confusion, frustration and apathy. It leaves me with a feeling that the work is incomplete, that it doesn't do its job. Of course, it takes little thought to realize that those immediate emotion betray and that if anything, Gates of Heaven does its job far too well.

Morris leaves any judgement in the hands of his viewers, which can potentially be disastrous. But, for his films, this works perfectly and is the idea that the rest of the work hangs upon. In Gates of Heaven, I see characters so real and true, like I've rarely seen in cinema, even most documentaries. Look at Cal Harberts and his two sons, Danny and Philip. Philip is older and seems to be an overachiever, motivational tidbits falling out of his mouth as he sits surrounded by his trophies. Yet, we cannot fault him. Danny strikes me as more of an outcast, he prefers to spend his time playing guitar, watching television and learning as much as he can about his trade. And yet, we cannot fault him. Even though we don't see them together or hear them talk much about each other, we know they are brothers, we instantly see their dynamic. This only emerges from Morris' simple, respectful portraits.

If I needed an underlying theme to tie it all together, I would choose the idea of pets, obviously. Seeing the few pet owners interviewed is tragic, silly and heartbreaking all at once. It's easy to laugh at the whole concept, but the movie forces you to think about animals, about pets, maybe about your own pets and forces you to realize how much you actually care for them. This ties you to these people and if you didn't identify with them before, you definitely do now.

I know Roger Ebert is an ecstatic fan of Gates of Heaven, so I've been looking up his writings on the film. Given that Gates of Heaven offers no easy answers, it makes perfect sense to see it on his Sight & Sound choices alongside another notoriously infuriating film, 2001:A Space Odyssey.

Merry Christmas to Luke - 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)

Merry Christmas to Luke - 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)

This is a new idea I have. Rather than (or sometimes, in addition to) giving something store-bought and material as a gift for the holidays, it's much better to give somebody a personalized blog about their film of choice. I could think of nobody better to inaugurate this little tradition than Monsieur Luke, my filmic partner-in-crime.

When I was a budding cinephile, I devoured Kubrick, cutting my teeth on a Clockwork Orange and becoming entranced by the Shining. When I picked up 2001 from Blockbuster, my mom gave me a stern warning- it was the worst movie she'd ever seen. Maybe that influenced me, but I couldn't help but agree. I liked the stuff with the monkeys, but everything after that put me to sleep and I never finished it. I rented the DVD again a couple years later, thinking maybe I wasn't ready for it. I made it to the end this time, and actually enjoyed it, but still thought that half of the movie could have been cut to make it much better (something I hate admitting that I actually thought about any movie). I even bought the DVD when it was on sale to try to complete my Kubrick collection, but that was that. At least, until the monolith Luke appeared. For months, and years, he begged me to see it again, seeing as how it was his favorite film of all-time and I never remembered enough to discuss it with him.

I'm surprised that my feelings on the film overall haven't changed much, although like anything, I can realize a lot more and get a lot more out of it now that I'm older. I love the first act, and the Jupiter Mission onward is almost all incredible. Unfortunately, between the primates and HAL does little other than to bore me out of my mind. It's not all bad, since it sets up this elaborate and detailed vision of the future and contains all the exposition in the entire 140+ minute film. But, the whole thing just seems dull and lifeless. I don't really care about anything anybody says, and the whole thing just seems so detatched and uninteresting.

But, all is not lost, because the surrounding reels are simply great. Of course it starts with the Dawn of Man, although still just a primate. We see what life must have been like for these early humanoids in stunning detail, which is what Kubrick does best. The magic of this part of the film is due to the ambition and creativity of Kubrick's vision and how he orchestrates it. We never see any close-ups, which hides any shortcomings the excellent costumes and makeup might have exhibited. Also, this gives us an excellent view of the landscape, and it's just so aesthetically pleasing. Even in 1968, I wonder how they managed to find such purity on Earth. So, this giant black monolith appears before the monkeys, and this is where the film gets really magical. Each appearance of the black slab is accompanied by this eerie vocalization, usually reserved for..well, I can't imagine what else it could ever be used for. But, it sends chills up and down my spine and makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end.

After the monolith appears, one of the apes picks up a bone and goes wild with it, eventually killing off one of his brethren. Now, this brings us to the first major impasse in the film. The monolith is linked to human progress, so our first major progress in the film is learning to use tools and, subsequently, killing one another. Now, is this supposed to mean that we can only make progress through murder? But, as we've seen, the apes fought and killed one another before the monolith and before tools. So, instead, is this just something built into us, a flaw that's uniquely human?

Later, we find ourselves aboard the Discovery on mission to Jupiter, but nobody really knows why. Conveniently, the ship comes equipped with the most advanced computer yet, the HAL 9000, capable of mimicking human emotions and incapable of error. HAL goes a little crazy and the two cognizant passengers decide to disconnect him. In one of the most famous sequences in cinema, HAL learns of this by reading lips, which they should have totally seen coming. HAL kills them all, but can't keep a good Dave down, as he finally shuts down HAL and learns the 'why' of his mission- to investigate a signal sent from the monolith they unearthed on the Moon (see: exposition). Then, uh, some stuff happens.

The one thing that mostly everybody can agree with, in regards to 2001, is the technical mastery that Kubrick exhibits. Each shot and scene is done to perfection. His infamous attention to detail is also on display in every single aspect of the film. The models used in the outer-space photography are really incredible; there's not a flaw to be seen. Nearly 40 years later, they still look far better than anything modern technology can come up with, and I'm sure they will 40 years from now. Not only is it a technical masterpiece, but an artistic one, and a distinction must surely be drawn between the two. Kubrick lets nothing get between him and expressing his grand vision here. And thank Stan for that.

In keeping with Kubrick's attention to the little details, some of the biggest delights with 2001 lie in the little things. Stan could definitely create an atmosphere like no other, in more ways than one. In the scene where HAL locks Dave out of the ship, the sense of panic is very palpable, it's easy for one's muscles to tighten while watching it. I love the editing when the primate first picks up the bone in the beginning, the way it cuts between the triumph and the violence. But, Kubrick's moments are also like no others because nobody else does things anything like him. Take, for instance, the appearances of the monolith or the 'tunnel' towards the end. I've found that I feel so much at times like that; Terror, serenity, trepidation, hope, elation, triumph. I think that, because a lot of the film (and a lot of Kubrick's other films) feels so distant that this eruption of so many conflicting emotions can easily be confused with lack thereof.

As for the analyzation and meaning of the film, I still have no clue. There are a million different ideas I could branch out on, as evidenced by the hundreds of analyses and a cursory glance at a message board like 2001's on IMDb. As Roger Ebert said, 2001 isn't an easy film, it doesn't tell you what to think or how to feel, which, to me, represents something that is sorely needed in cinema. Sometimes, even most of the times, it's better to escape into a movie, to feel the ups and downs, like a rollercoaster, and come out unchanged. But, sometimes it's an utter necessity to have a film like 2001 to inspire thought and inspire those emotions and ideas that can't be put into words.

In the end, I still don't know that 2001 means. I'm sure that it does mean something, because it's far too important not to. Watching it, those wordless secrets of the cinema creep into your skin that let you know that this is something special, something worthy of your attention and thoughts. To give an easy answer would be a cop-out, it'd be against anything and everything that the film itself stands for. I've kept myself and my ideas on the film 'fresh' in order to write this, but I really can't wait to dive into ideas, analyses and discussions about it. I feel like the message is inside of a locked room that I don't quite have the key to. But, what's inside that room is important, it's essential.

Sven Nykvist Memorial - Part 4: The Virgin Spring

Sven Nykvist Memorial - Part 4: The Virgin Spring

The Virgin Spring is just such a rich film. There's so much going on there to focus on. Technically, you've got Nykvist doing his thing (see below), Bergman's always-sublime direction, great acting all around (Sydow, of course, Birgitta Pettersson, Gunnel Lindblom, the herdsmen, not to mention the boy, who turns in one of the best, most nuanced child performances ever), the sparse but evocative music by Bergman regular Erik Nordgren. Then, you realize that, not only does the film tell a great story, full of details and well-developed characters, but it just gives you so much to think about. Bergman presents a complete world, encapsulated in 89 scant minutes, a world that seems to be in contention with itself; Christianity and paganism, purity and filth, pleasure and horror, guilt and redemption, good and evil, Heaven and Hell.

This was Nykvist's first collaboration with Bergman, aside from some minor work on Sawdust and Tinsel, but you wouldn't know it. From the start, the two men moved with such conviction and boldness that it seemed like they were brought together by destiny. He captures Bergman's world in conflict so elegantly that it's impossible to imagine the scenes being shot any other way. His lighting reflects the conflict in the film; there are many contrasts between light and dark, the natural and the baroque, the beautiful and the ugly. Just look at the expressions on the characters' faces here, all stripped bare, right down to their very soul. Yes, Nykvist as the master.

"...we are both utterly captivated by the problems of light, the gentle, dangerous, dreamlike, living, dead, clear, misty, hot, violent, bare, sudden, dark, springlike, falling, straight, slanting, sensual, subdued, limited, poisonous, calming, pale light. Light." - Ingmar Bergman on Sven Nykvist

Modium goes region free!

UK DVDs courtesy of (even though I paid for them). Veronique is obviously Region 1, but who can resist photographing something with Irene Jacob on it?

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Sven Nykvist Memorial - Part 3: Crimes and Misdemeanors

Sven Nykvist Memorial - Part 3: Crimes and Misdemeanors

Crimes and Misdemeanors has always been one of my favorite Woodys. I remember after I'd seen Match Point in theaters, I thought it covered a lot of the same ground that he'd traversed earlier in this film. But, watching it again, I see that Match Point has absolutely nothing on Crimes and Misdemeanors. It does one of the best things that a film can do; it explores ideas. Even better, it gives your mind enough of a kick-start to wander off on its own and give you plenty more to think about for days after the credits roll. It's a contemplation on the very ideas of crime and punishment (sup Dostoevsky) and the things that go along. Not only is it deep, but in the segments which Woody cast himself in, it's funny and touching. Not to mention, it's easily his most cynical work. Essentially, the rich, well-to-do upper class are able to get away with murder, meanwhile, those who can't catch a break are stripped of everything they care about and any dreams they may have. Yeah, I can see why I dig it.

It's always interesting to compare Nykvist's Bergman films with those he did with other directors. Not because they're inferior necessarily, but because the two men and their work are intrinsically linked. But, I think it speaks for Sven's talent that you never think of Bergman while watching one of his non-Bergman projects. In this film, his camera adapts to Allen's style, you can see it elegantly swooping and gliding around the environments, seeking out the point that will ensure the maximum emotional impact. And, of course, his lighting brings out some of the most genuinely moving moments in any of Allen's films (this also goes for Another Woman, which I actually enjoy more). Like I said, nobody could coax feeling out of a human face like Sven Nykvist.


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