Thursday, May 31, 2012

The Color Wheel: Like Fucked-Up Brother, Like Fucked-Up Sister

The Color Wheel
Directed By: Alex Ross Perry
Written By: Carlen Altman and Alex Ross Perry
Starring: Carlen Altman, Alex Ross Perry, Bob Byington, Ry Russo-Young, Roy Thomas, and C. Mason Wells
Director of Photography: Sean Price Williams, Editor: Alex Ross Perry

            If one were to just look at a description of The Color Wheel on paper, one would expect the next film in the often unimaginative mumblecore movement. The writer-director-actor, Alex Ross Perry has been linked before with Joe Swanberg and Andrew Bujalski. C. Mason Wells co-worte and starred in Swanberg’s LOL. Ry Russo-Young is another one of the mumblecore filmmakers and has a small role here. And the film’s plot involves a lot of dialogue about 20-somethings trying to figure out their lives. But it only takes the first image of 16mm black and white grain and the soul songs of the 1970s for The Color Wheel to transport us to a different world. We’re not in Kansas anymore.

            It’s not that Perry’s film is completely stripped of any relation to the mumblecore movement, but The Color Wheel has much more on its mind, both visually and thematically, than those of his filmmaking generation’s counterparts. Perry made a small if notable dent in filmmaking with his first film, Impolex (Less of an adaptation of Thomas Pychon’s Gravity’s Rainbow than a parody of its cult status), but he launches himself into a unique stratosphere of filmmakers to watch with this abrasive and uniquely bold comedy about sibiling-hood. 

Elena: Class Warfare In A Post-Soviet Home

Directed By: Andrei Zvyagintsev
Written By: Oleg Negin
Starring: Nadezdha Markina, Andrey Smirnov, Aleksey Rozin, and Yelena Lyadova
Director of Photography: Mikhail Krichman, Editor: Anna Mass, Art Direction: Andrey Ponckratov, Original Music: Philip Glass

            The two worlds that Elena, the elderly and titular protagonist of this austere and intelligent Russian drama, inhabits couldn’t be starker. On one side is the sterile, almost silent world that her and her husband dwell. The only noises are the sounds of coffee grinding or doors sliding open, as well for the constant cawing of black crows (a foreboding sign of things to come). Everything feels sterile and in complete order, designed for minimal chaos to produce maximal efficiency. And then there is the home of Elena’s son Sergey, which is littered, constantly bombarded by video games and television noises, and cramped. This is how the other half lives, and it is not to be trusted.

            In what would seem rare today in Hollywood filmmaking, Elena is a rare film that is not only surprisingly conservative in its politics but highly thrilling. Liberal films—or at least films that tout liberal ideas—are a dime a dozen, most of them barely interested in political ideas. But director Andrei Zvyaginstev and screenwriter Oleg Negin have deliberately taken on class in what spins into a Hitchcock-like thriller, and brings such an apt and nuanced hand to its political statement, cleverly disguised as a morality tale. It’s the type of great filmmaking that could easily convince you of its talking points.

Screening Log: Post-Hiatus Catch Up

              Well that was longer than expected. I’ve come to the point where not writing about movies is worse than me than doing nothing, as films easily populate space in my mind instead of things I’d rather never have to think about. And during my long hiatus, I took in quite a few films (I hope to have reviews of Elena, Men in Black 3, and The Color Wheel up soon). I’m breaking up my usual style this time around, as I’ve annotated most of the films I’ve watched, though in much briefer notes. I also have a call for comments and discussion about thoughts on a few of these, so please respond below!

-The Tiger of Eschhnapur, 1959. Directed by Fritz Lang. 35mm projection at Anthology Film Archives.
-The Indian Tomb, 1959. Directed by Fritz Lang. 35mm projection at Anthology Film Archives.
-The Grand Illusion, 1937. Directed by Jean Renoir. 35mm projection at Film Forum.
-On Top of the Whale, 1982. Directed by Raúl Ruiz. 35mm projection at Anthology Film Archives.
-Mulholland Dr., 2001. Directed by David Lynch. DVD.

            Perhaps the closest that a “mainstream” American film has come to the avant-garde moment. What makes Lynch so accessible compared to other artists working in the same sort of vein is that Lynch’s starting points—glamor of Hollywood, film noir—are so familiar and accessible to cinephiles. Lynch relishes in these classic tropes and drowns us in their illusion. The other big thing I noted is that while the narrative is much more disjointed, I felt a much more tonal and thematic balance in this film when compared to Blue Velvet, that felt a bit unfocused when I last watched it (mainly in the latter Frank sequences). There’s more control and the feel of an assured director in Mulholland, so when it heads into the bizarre, I never flinch, but instead let it suck me into the world. “Silencio” becomes the ultimate metaphor for the film—the most beautiful performance you’ve ever seen with disturbing emotion, though it is of course, all an illusion.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Interlude: Hiatus

I was already planning on taking a small break from writing, but I got some personal news that makes this a necessity. I won't be writing anything for the next couple weeks, and I'm going to try and stay off all those platforms we call "social media." If anyone wants to chat with me, I'm available via email. But for now, I'm gonna take a relaxing dive in the pool: 

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

For the Love of FIlm III: Hitchcock's Continuity "Error"

This is my second post in the For the Love of Film: The Film Preservation Blogathon. Watch my video essay on Hitchcock’s influence on Akira Kurosawa’s High and Low here.

In 2011, the New Zealand Film Archive discovered part of The White Shadow, a film directed by Graham Cutts, and written, edited, and assistant directed by the legendary Alfred Hitchcock. The first three reels of this lost work have been arduously restored, but the film has only had a single public screening. For this year’s For the Love of Film: The Film Preservation Blogathon, we are asking for donations to the National Film Preservation Foundation. If we can raise $15,000, the Foundation will provide free streaming of The White Shadow for four months, and record a new score by Michael Motilla. To donate, simply click here. And for more information on the blogathon, please visit Ferdy on Films, the Self-Styled Siren, and This Island Rod. Every donation counts, and we thank you for your continued support of film.

            Hitchcock’s Psycho has been studied mercilessly to death, but there’s one moment in particular that I haven’t seen many people comment on. It’s a scene that few remember, or at least discuss in detail, where which Sam and Lila visit the Sheriff and his wife and the Sheriff reveals the history of Norman and what not. This scene itself isn’t particularly fascinating—it’s the exposition to get us back to the motel—but there’s something odd in Hitchcock’s filming. The film is shot-reverse shot, as the Sheriff discusses the details. But what’s most perplexing is the placement of the Sheriff’s wife in these shots:

            The sheriff’s wife continually seems to jump around in the frame, appearing in both shots on opposite sides. Her appearance is oddly striking, and her necessity to the scene is nonexistent, but Hitchcock not only keeps her in the scene, but also makes what most would consider a continuity error. But we can’t consider it as such—Hitchcock was meticulous in every frame. He wouldn’t just leave such a mistake in the final product. Would he? 

Video Essay: Dial K for Kurosawa

For my part in the For the Love of Film: The Film Preservation Blogathon, I wrote and edited a video essay together about my favorite Kurosawa film, High and Low, and its unique comparisons to Hithcock. Check it out, and donate to the cause.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Screening Log: Clover Edition

            Two notes before this week’s screening log! Today begins the For the Love of Film: The Film Preservation Blogathon. Run by Ferdy on Films, Rod Stewart, and the lovely Self-Styled Siren, this year’s goal is to raise $15,000 to donate to the National Film Preservation Foundation, who will use that money to restore the recently found Hitchcock film The White Shadow. Read more about it at Ferdy’s place, and donate here. Yours truly will have a couple of things to blog about later this week. Also, as I posted Friday, make sure to check out some of the great stuff at the Migrating Forms festival.

-Celine and Julie Go Boating, 1977. Directed by Jacques Rivette. 35mm projection at Film Forum.
-Climates, 2006. Directed by Nuri Bilge Ceylan, 35mm projection at Film Society of Lincoln Center.*
-The Connection, 1961. Directed by Shirley Clarke. 35mm projection at IFC Center.

Bernie: Good Standing Citizen With A Little Blemish

Directed By: Richard Linklater
Written By: Skip Hollandsworth and Richard Linklater
Starring: Jack Black, Shirley MacLaine, and Matthew McConaughey
Director of Photography: Dick Pope, Editor: Sandra Adair, Production Designer: Bruce Curtis, Original Music: Graham Reynolds

            The opening scene of Bernie, a not-so-dark comedy from Richard Linklater about a dark subject, begins with Jack Black as the titular character giving a lecture. His tone is gentle and warm, his mannerisms quirky but spirited, and his instructions simple to follow. In fact, it takes a few seconds before a pull out by the camera reveals Bernie is standing in front of a dead body, and preparing it for a funeral. Linklater’s tone is frothy in its lightness; his camera puts the grotesque in close-up, but often under soft lighting that makes it feel gentle. So what is a gentle man doing murder for?

            And Bernie is certainly one of the more heartwarming comedies about a terrible crime, and a true one. Set in the town of Carthage, Texas (East Texas is quite different from the oil men and weirdos of the other parts, a local tells us), Linklater spins together documentary and recreation about one man whose story is too good to not be on film, the type Hitchcock would have ate up with giddy delight. It’s strange and odd in all the ways one would never expect, and Black makes us fall in love with his adorable character, even if he does something very, very wrong.

Friday, May 11, 2012

God Bless America: "Sermon" on the Mount

God Bless America
Written and Directed By: Bobcat Goldthwait
Starring: Joel Murray and Tara Lynn Barr
Director of Photography: Bradley Stonesifer, Editors: David Hopper and Jason Stewart, Production Designer: Natalie Sanfilippo, Original Music: Matt Kollar

            The success of Bobcat Goldthwait has rested on one essential fixture in his comedy: as much as you might find him offensive and vile, he is a “truth teller,” as the kids like to say. His comedy and his films might be over-the-top fantasies that ignore real world consequences, but they are fantasies that we are all supposed to hold deep within our repressed hearts. Consider that during the first five minutes of God Bless America, his latest and most direct polemic rant against American culture, the protagonist has a dream where he murders a loud, constantly crying, and ugly baby. Goldthwait assumes that all of us secretly want to murder that baby as well, along with many other dumb, awful Americans that populate our culture.

            Goldthwait has some truth in God Bless America, but it’s been diluted and packaged in such an odd package that never seems to congeal. There’s promise to his work, the same way Shakes the Clown begins as a seriously dark look into comedy and alcoholism, but he gives up on making a bolder statement for making an easy and not particularly clever one. Add to that the violent fantasies God Bless America indulges, and Goldthwait’s nihilism isn’t just lacking in profundity, it’s making those he holds upright seem just as misguided.

Sleepless Night: No Exit

Sleepless Night
Directed By: Frédéric Jardin
Written By: Frédéric Jardin and Olivier Douyère, from a scenario by Jardin and Nicolas Saada
Starring: Tomer Sisley, Serge Riaboukine, Julien Boisselier, Joey Starr, Laurent Stocker, Birol Ünel, and Lizzie Brocheré
Director of Photography: Tom Stern, Edited By: Marco Cavé and Christophe Pinel, Production Design: Hubert Pouille, Original Music: Nicolas Errèra

            The pounding rhythms of the club in Sleepless Night form a mix tape of styles through the narrative of this French thriller by newcomer Frédéric Jardin. While the film takes place in reality with high situation stakes, the film moves from room to room and presents what feels like an entirely different world, each with its own ecosystem and rules. Yet all are held together by the music that echoes throughout.

            The comparisons some critics have made to Die Hard for Sleepless Night are not far off, as the film presents an intense, non-stop thrill ride about one man’s insane attempts to rescued his son from gang leaders. Jardin’s film begins with a murder and ends in blood. Like the recently lauded The Raid (though not in these corners), Sleepless Night is low in ambitions but high in execution. It’s a genre piece done right, never too distracting with its narrative, but always fascinating in it’s visual set pieces.

Experiment This! A Preview of Migrating Forms 2012

           For those in New York, tonight begins one of the city’s smaller film festivals, but also one of its best, full of cinematic delights. Now in its fourth year, the Migrating Forms festival is broad in scope, grabbing from all over the globe and often choosing the most unique works of experimental cinema one can think of. It also has some really amazing and extremely rare retrospective screenings as well. It runs ten days, from tonight and next Sunday, down at Anthology Film Archives. Tickets are $10 for individual screenings, but they offer a number of deals (three films for $20). Here are five must sees for those planning to attend:

1. Fritz Lang’s Indian Epics

People either remember Fritz Lang for his amazing silent and early sound films (Metropolis, M) or his intense American noirs (The Big Heat, Scarlett Street), but near the end of his career, Lang went on to make two epic scale films about the clash between East and West. The Tiger of Eschanpur and The Indian Tomb play in 35mm, making this one of the few chances you’ll be able to see these in their perfect form. (Sunday, May 13th at 7pm and 9pm).

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Interlude: Kael Smash Edition

"The audience is alive to it. Our experience as we watch it has some connection with the way we reacted to movies in childhood: with how we came to love them and to feel they were ours—not an art that we learned over the years to appreciate but simply and immediately ours. When an American movie is contemporary in feeling, like this one, it makes a different kind of contact with an American audience from the kind that is made by European films, however contemporary."
-Pauline Kael, "Onward and Upward With the Arts," The New Yorker, October 21st, 1967

-"Film Critic" Hulk, "The Hulk On Mark Ruffalo's Hulk," The New Yorker, May 8th, 2012

Sunday, May 06, 2012

The Avengers: Attack of the Giant Blockbuster Movie

The Avengers
Written and Directed By: Joss Whedon, from a story by Zak Penn and Whedon
Starring: Samuel L Jackson, Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddelston, Jeremy Renner, Scarlett Johansson, Clark Gregg, Cobie Smulders, Stellan Skarsgaard, and Gwyneth Paltrow
Director of Photography: Seamus McGarvey, Editor: Jeffery Ford and Lisa Lassek, Production Designer: James Chinlund, Original Music: Alan Silvestri

            For those who stuck around through the credits of Iron Man in the summer of 2008, they were treated to a post-credit sequence as a one-eyed Samuel L Jackson approached Robert Downey Jr., telling him about a special initiative. Who could expect that four years later, that gambit by Marvel would pay off in The Avengers? After a Hulk, a Thor, and a Captain America (and another Iron Man), Marvel has finally created the juggernaut of them all: A superhero movie that combines the biggest names with even bigger special effects. For those of us who have watched with continuing dread as Marvel launched an unstoppable wave of fan service films, tickling them with Easter eggs (instead of plot and characte), The Avengers has seemed like a time bomb in which film could finally be declared dead. The blockbusters have won.

            But fear not! Because while the Marvel machine might seem unstoppable, here comes writer-director Joss Whedon to reign in this whale of a movie. Whedon may not have worked in big budget scales before, but his importance to fandom is unparalleled, creating many memorable shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Firefly, as well as the brainchild of last month’s Cabin in the Woods. If anyone could stop The Avengers from train wreck potential, surely Whedon is the man for the job.

Screening Log: Good Scientist Edition

            Heavy screening log this week, folks. Some very interesting and great movies out there for New Yorkers to check out. Film Forum has Celine & Julie Go Boating (seeing this afternoon), IFC Center has The Connection (seeing Wednesday), and Film Society continues its retrospective of Turkish cinema. In news that is wholly awesome, Roger Ebert liked and linked my latest video essay to his Facebook and Twitter followers. Validation! I will also say on my continuing rants about digital projection, that I was not a big fan of the new 4K scan of Bonjour Tristesse at Film Forum. This is another Sony DCP, and like Dr. Strangelove, they tried to recreate film grain. It’s less distracting than it is in Kubrick’s film, but it’s another missed opportunity.

-Shakes the Clown, 1992. Directed by Bobcat Goldthwait. 35mm projection at 92nd Y Tribeca.
-Bonjour Tristesse, 1958. Directed by Otto Preminger. Digital 2K projection at Film Forum.
-Four Nights a Dreamer, 1971. Directed by Robert Bresson. 35mm projection at Brooklyn Academy of Music.
-Elegy, 1971. Directed by Yılmaz Güney. 35mm projection at Film Society of Lincoln Center.
-Yol, 1982. Directed by Serif Gören and Yılmaz Güney. 35mm projection at Film Society of Lincoln Center.
-Gojira, 1954. Directed by Ishirô Honda. 35mm projection at Japan Society. 

Tuesday, May 01, 2012

Interlude: Sight & Sound

Following the take from some commentary, just a list of films I can't live without. This list will be out of date in about five minutes.

1. Vertigo (Hitchcock, USA, 1958)
2. Raging Bull (Scorsese, USA, 1980)
3. Do The Right Thing (Lee, USA, 1989)
4. High and Low (Kurosawa, Japan, 1962)
5. Rio Bravo (Hawks, USA, 1959)
6. 2001: A Space Odyssey (Kubrick, UK, 1968)
7. The Passion of Joan of Arc (Dreyer, France, 1928)
8. Sunset Blvd. (Wilder, USA, 1950)
9. Days of Heaven (Malick, USA, 1978)
10. The Searchers (Ford, USA, 1956)

Not included: Psycho, The Godfather, Close-Up, Pulp Fiction, Chinatown, Annie Hall, The Apartment, Sweet Smell of Success, Chungking Express, The Godfather: Part II, and a whole lot more...