Sunday, February 26, 2012

Screening Log: Before #TeamMargaret Edition

         Another good week at the movies, cut short by a couple of issues. I must discuss one disappointment, however. On Thursday, I was excited to head down to Anthology Film Archives to see The Candidate, a classic 1970s political film with Robert Redford that has eluded me so far. That was until critic and film programmer C. Mason Welles posted to Twitter that Anthology had scraped the 35mm for a projected DVD. Not caring to pay to watch a projection of bad quality, I skipped out (the same thing happened to Kenji Fujishima in seeing Face to Face at Film Society this week). Next week, I’ll be discussing Film Forum’s “This is DCP” series, which is far different than just a projected DVD, but the increasing scarcity of 35mm is no longer an impending threat for the future. It’s here folks. 

Also worth reading: Andrew Welch, a fellow critic down in Dallas, wrote a small piece on why he doesn't like No Country for Old Men and thinks it's one where Oscar got it "wrong." I responded in the comments; both are worth a read.

If you wondering where any of my Oscar coverage is, I'll be tweeting throughout the night while drowning myself in wine. My one hope is that the dinosaurs from Tree of Life decide to go by the way of nature and smash Uggie's poor head in.

Anyways, onto the log, which includes one theatrical performance as well.

-You Can Count On Me, 2000: Directed By Kenneth Lonergan. Online Streaming Via Netflix Instant.
-Life is Sweet, 1990: Directed By Mike Leigh. 35mm Screening at Film Society of Lincoln Center.
-Track of the Cat, 1954: Directed By William Wellman. 35mm Screening at Film Forum.
-Westward the Women, 1951: Directed By William Wellman. 35mm Screening at Film Forum.
-Richard III, 2012: Directed By Sam Mendes and the Bridge Theater Project. Performed at the Harvey Theater at the Brooklyn Academy of Music.
-The Tree of Life, 2011. Directed By Terrence Malick. Blu-Ray on HDTV.

              Given that yesterday was basically the culmination of the #teammargaret phenomenon, with Kenneth Lonergan and cast taking to Film Society for a screening of the beloved and secret masterpiece, I finally gave a look at Lonergan’s debut feature, You Can Count On Me. It’s fascinating to see how the same director cam come to very similar essential truths, but through very different methods. Margaret is operatic, expansive, perilously ambitious. You Can Count On Me is quiet, minimal, and yet ambitious in its search for human truth as well.

            The film stars Laura Linney as a single mother named Sammy in a small town in upstate New York, whose life is thrown out of balance by the return of her brother, Terry (the first big role of Mark Ruffalo, who walks onto the scene like he was just some real life wanderer that decided to become part of this story). Sammy and Terry lost their parents at a young age (shown in the film’s brutal, almost silent opening), and Terry has been in and out of Sammy’s life in irregular intervals. Terry is a fuck up, but not the kind you can simply loathe. He’s a genuinely nice guy, and treats Sammy’s son well.

            Both Sammy and Terry need nurturing though, and Lonergan presents this often through his naturalistic dialogue but also his detailed visual style. The first night Terry arrives, Sammy checks up on him to see if needs anything. Terry pretty much ignores Sammy as he remains glued to a Gameboy belonging to Sammy’s son that he is playing, demonstrating his stunted adulthood. There’s also one other sequence I want to discuss, because I was shown it in a directing class of a director getting it “wrong.” Here’s the scene:
          Before watching the scene, we had marked the beats and drawn on the board how we would direct it by changing camera angles and places on all the emotional beats. Lonergan doesn’t do this, but having now seen the whole film, Lonergan isn’t trying to make this sequence emotional; it’s more comedic than anything else, as the two characters relive their teenage years, staring out into the stars like young kids would do. Lonergan gets exactly what he wants out of the scene. (I'd also point out I thought the teacher was somewhat of an idiot).

            While I was a bit disappointed by the climatic sequence of You Can Count on Me (Margaret has a similar issue), the final sequence between Sammy and Terry, in which they accept the unknown, devastated me. Here are two characters who lives are shifting ever so away, but can’t escape their need because they have a desire to capture their lost childhood. Filled with a country rock score to fit its small town setting, Lonergan’s ability to paint the varied emotions of human life is demonstrated in harrowed beauty.

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