Monday, July 30, 2012

Cinephiliacs Continues

If you've been here and been under a rock, you may have missed my new podcast, The Cinephiliacs, in which I've interviewing the great cinephiles of our time. Check out episode one with Glenn Kenny (plus a discussion of Antonioni's Blow-Up), and just released, episode two with Matt Zoller Seitz (with his very convincing argument about the greatness of Born on the Fourth of July).

Killer Joe: Harbinger of Death on a Texan Plain

Killer Joe
Directed By: William Friedkin
Written By: Tracy Letts, based on his own play.
Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Emile Hirsch, Juno Temple, Thomas Haden Church, and Gina Gershon.
Director of Photography: Caleb Deschanel, Editor: Darrin Navarro, Production Designer: Franco-Giacomo Carbone, Original Music: Tyler Bates

            William Friedkin doesn’t pull any punches with his Southern gothic drama Killer Joe about the low-lifes of the world. It takes only three minutes for him to shove a woman’s under-parts right in Emilie Hirsch’s (and our) face. Well that’s why this film comes with an NC-17 rating, I thought, though justifications will continue throughout. But Friedkin, who has never shied away from explicit and horrific images (The Exorcist, Cruising), and doesn’t just do it for indulgence. Killer Joe is set among indulgent people, with little care or self-worth. And they must be punished, and Friedkin has just the man to do it.

            Working once again with playwright Tracy Letts (the two last collaborated on Bug), Friedkin brings a purported intensity to a stage play with Killer Joe, this one anchored by a truly manic and truly brilliant performance by Matthew McConaughey. The actor has of course been on a run with a string of oddball yet highly unique performances in films like Bernie and Magic Mike, but Killer Joe takes the cake for the actor’s sheer magnetism and silence. He’s introduced in the film like a Tarantino character—we see the gloves, the shades, the gun, and the cowboy hat. Back when it was originally staged in Chicago, Michael Shannon donned the role. Shannon’s a terrific actor, but he’s also known for his big ferocity. What makes McConaughey so thrilling is his utter silence. He doesn’t let words run through his mouth without valuing every syllable.

Screening Log: Compositional Density Edition

Back on my regular schedule, it’s a good time to be a New Yorker, with Film Forum’s Universal 100 festival playing some great hits. I wish more could be said for Museum of the Moving Image’s presentation of an IB Technicolor print of Vertigo, which had some issues. I was quite excited to see the film on 35mm, and especially curious to see it because this print was struck before the infamous 1996 restoration. Having the film at MoMI’s large screen and perfect acoustics seemed perfect for a film I’ve deemed the greatest ever made, but sadly it was just a bit out of focus and even worse, incorrectly framed (unless the film was “irected by Alfred Hitchcoc”), which slightly dimmed the experience, along with the inappropriate audience laughter (though a highly appropriate scream at the end, when the “shadowy figure” at the end). Word on the street was that it looked a bit better on Sunday night. I wrote some notes on it on a comment over at Glenn Kenny's place, so check that over there.

-Mogambo, 1953. Directed by John Ford. 35mm projection at Brooklyn Academy of Music.
-The Suspect, 1944. Directed by Richard Siodmack. 35mm projection at Film Forum.
-Phantom Lady, 1944. Directed by Richard Siodmack. 35mm projection at Film Forum.
-Vertigo, 1958. Directed by Alfred Hitchcock. 35mm IB Technicolor projection at Museum of the Moving Image.
-The Band Wagon, 1953. Directed by Vincente Minnelli. HD on Turner Classic Movies. 

Interlude: Image of the Day 7/30/12

From La Jetée. Director Chris Marker passed away this morning at the age of 91. Perhaps the only experimental filmmaker to have been accepted by mainstream criticism. Read more at The Guardian.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Screening Log: Time Travel Edition

            Oh dear, how far behind are we here? I don’t want to defend my lack of screening logs (we’re now three weeks behind), but as you may have noticed, it’s been a big couple weeks for LabuzaMovies, and now with a whole new project getting launched, I may have fallen off the boat for a bit. But we’re back, baby!

-Limelight, 1952. Directed by Charlie Chaplin. 35mm projection at Museum of Modern Art.
-The Steel Helmet, 1951. Directed by Sam Fuller. 35mm projection at Museum of Modern Art.
-The Life of Oharu, 1952. Directed by Kenji Mizoguchi. 35mm projection at Museum of Modern Art.
-The Earrings of Madame De…, 1953. Directed by Max Ophüls. 35mm projection at Museum of Modern Art.
-Born on the Fourth of July, 1989. Directed by Oliver Stone. DVD.
-Margaret (Extended Edition), 2011. Directed by Kenneth Lonergan. DVD Projection at Landmark Sunshine.
-Daises, 1966. Directed by Věra Chytilová .35mm projection at Brooklyn Academy of Music.
-The Battle of Algiers, 1966. Directed by Gillo Pontecorvo. 35mm projection at Film Forum.
-One from the Heart, 1982. Directed by Francis Ford Coppola. 35mm projection at Museum of the Moving Image.
-Rear Window, 1954. Directed by Alfred Hitchcock. 35mm projection at Brooklyn Academy of Music.
-Play Misty for Me, 1971. Directed by Clint Eastwood. 35mm projection at Film Forum
-The Sugarland Express, 1974. Directed by Steven Spielberg. 35mm projection at Film Forum.
-The Clock, 2011. Directed by Christian Marclay. Digital Projection at Lincoln Center.

The Dark Knight Rises: Tale of Two Gothams

The Dark Knight Rises
Directed By: Christopher Nolan
Written By: Christopher and Jonathan Nolan, based on a story by Christopher Nolan and David S. Goyer (characters created by Bob Kane)
Starring: Christian Bale, Tom Hardy, Anne Hathaway, Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, Joseph-Gordon Levitt, Marion Cotillard, Gary Oldman, Matthew Modine, Ben Mendelsohn, and Nestor Campbell.
Director of Photography: Wally Pfister, Editor: Lee Smith, Production Designer: Nathan Crowley and Kevin Kavanaugh, Original Music: Hans Zimmer

            The idea of “superhero movie fatigue” has been an issue raised by film critics again and again for the last few years. Another Spider-Man? An X-Men spinoff? More? Nevermind that we had three Maltese Falcon adaptations in less than ten years, but outside the point of all this yawning of superheroes, sometimes it’s forgotten why they exist in culture at all. Superheroes are myth stories. The Greeks had Achilles. Medieval times had Beowulf. And we have Superman. Sure, when you wait only three years between a film, perhaps not much changes in our perception and meaning of this myth. But the point is that a superhero can mean something different depending on time and circumstances. This is what Christopher Nolan believes. Unfortunately, I don’t know if he knows what his heroes want to stand for.

            It’s hard not to know that this weekend sees the release of The Dark Knight Rises, the third (and final) “chapter” in Nolan’s vision of the Batman myth. Such hype and speculation has fueled the world since the release of 2008’s The Dark Knight, a box office bonanza that attempted to not only take superheroes seriously, but to extract as much “super”-ness as possible. And with Inception out of the way, Nolan, writing the script with his brother Jonathan, has returned to make something of an epic in the Charles Dickens sense. The Dark Knight Rises is truly a big film—three hours long, with a good portion of the film shot on IMAX cameras, and featuring at least 10 plots that somehow mesh together at the end. It’s also a total mess of conflicting ideas and emotions and flat filmmaking, marred by it’s desire to simply do too much. But it kept me glued to my seat while watching it nonetheless.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Taking Back MY Space

            I have no business commenting on the terrible tragedy that took place this morning, but I feel compelled to say something, mainly because I’m so shaken up by it. I am not writing this to trivialize any other horrifying event from the past or even going on right now, but there’s one fact I can’t get over: it was a movie theater.

As a film blogger, I spend a lot of time in movie theaters. I don’t go to that many press screenings, so when I see movies, I see them with a paying audience who have come to escape into something beyond themselves. And this jerk wants to ruin it for all of us.

            I go to about five or six movies a week right now, almost all in theaters. We sometimes like to complain about theaters—bad staff, prices, questionable projection, and of course distracting audience members. But that’s my space. That’s my church, and I’ll take it just the way it is. This guy wants to make movie theaters into something different, and I can’t let him do that.

            Tomorrow, I’m getting up early to see The Dark Knight Rises, and at this moment, I’m kind of terrified to do so. But I know if I don’t go, then this guy wins. As scared as I am, I cannot wait to get in that theater, enjoy the movie, and walk out safely. I don’t want to go through a metal detector or be frisked by police to do so. I don’t want anyone to do that. I want to reclaim MY space.

            I want everyone to go to the movies this weekend. I don’t care what you see; I just want you to go. If you don’t go, that’s fine. But don’t avoid a movie theater because you are scared. I don’t want this awful person to win. I don’t want movie theaters to be a tense, uncomfortable place where I can’t lose myself to a film because I have to think what if it happens here. I want to take back my space. That’s my space. And no one is going to take that away from me.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Extending "Margaret"

            In Kenneth Lonergan’s play The Starry Messenger, Matthew Broderick’s character comments, “"Opera treats every human life as a tremendous event, a gigantic drama, something of monumental importance, which is why opera is ridiculous, and why it’s true.” And what better way to describe how Lisa, the protagonist of Lonergan’s Margaret, sees her life. Witness to, and partially the cause of, a woman’s accidental death by a bus, Lisa sees and experiences the world around her in a search for meaning. She is the protagonist of her world (and our’s by the fact the film follows her). Her self-awareness constantly rivals her naiveté, and as the strings and voices of Don Giovanni and the Tales of Hoffman echo throughout the score, we see Lisa attempt to navigate the land of 25 million, each with their own story.

            Yes, this is that film Margaret. The one I have written about on every occasion possible (and tweeted about much more). And finally, last night at a special screening in New York (and a DVD release today), Lonergan’s Margaret has arrived in a longer, alternate cut. Lonergan has not claimed this “Extended Edition” to be his director’s cut, instead advocating both cuts. I certainly agree, this new Margaret is richer and deeper, often much more avant-garde in its attempts to create and deconstruct the idea of a personal epic. But it’s also even messier than before, though much of it seems again the product of “not enough time” (It was explained before the screening that is was very much a work print cut that had not been mastered or finalized, but was as close as they were going to come).

Sunday, July 08, 2012

Savages: Drug Problem

Directed By: Oliver Stone
Written By: Oliver Stone, Don Winslow, and Shane Salerno, based on a novel by Winslow
Starring: Taylor Kitsch, Aaron Johnson, Blake Lively, Benicio Del Toro, John Travolta, Salma Hayek, Demian Bichir, and Emile Hirsch
Director of Photography: Dan Mindel, Editors: Joe Hutshing, Sturart Levy, and Alex Marquez, Production Designer: Tomas Voth, Original Music: Adam Peters

            Oliver Stone’s cinematic sensibilities are equivalent to a sledgehammer to the face—Subtlety is not his forte. His camera is constantly moving, changing shades of colors and hues, flashing between them, and his soundtrack filled with a mix of rock and roll as well as intense classical, all to pummel you into submission. When Stone goes off the rails, most notably in films like JFK and Nixon, it brings you into the paranoia and intensity of the characters he focuses on. When he pulls it back, even just a little bit, it reveals the shallowness of his filmmaking. Wall Street and Platoon have not aged well to say the least, and dear goodness let’s not remember World Trade Center, which turned 9/11 into a Lifetime movie.

            So perhaps we should be happy that in Savages, Stone has returned to the intense filmmaking that has made him an auteur (Would he be Expressive Esoterica or Strained Seriousness?). Or perhaps not. Based on a Don Winslow novel, Savages is a drug movie, which could be a good ol’ summer shoot-em-up if it wasn’t for Stone’s operatic sensibilities. It begins with a draining voiceover by Blake Lively, whose name is Ophelia but goes by the name O (The other Hamlet reference is all the dead bodies). She explains that she’s the lover of Chon and Ben, who provide Laguna Beach with the world’s finest marijuana (“The THC levels are 33%” they exclaim, which means nothing to this non-smoker). O uses a little of each for both—Chon (Taylor Kitsch) is the brawny, military man who has “wargasms,” while Ben (Aaron Johnson) is the hippie free spirit who wants to help the world with $10 laptops and solar panels when he’s not getting rich.

Monday, July 02, 2012

Looking for Signs of 'Breaking Bad' in Vince Gilligan's 'X-Files' Episodes

Over at Indiewire's TV section, I write about my favorite childhood series, The X-Files, and revisit the episodes penned by Breaking Bad showrunner Vince Gilligan. Turns out he's always been exploring monsters in interesting ways. Read it here.

Sunday, July 01, 2012

Screening Log: Goin' Up In Flames Edition

            Happy July 4th week everyone! If anyone needs to borrow my DVDs of Armageddon or Independence Day, let me know. Both are required viewing in the Labuza household.

-Haywire, 2012. Directed by Steven Soderbergh. Blu-Ray.
-Days of Heaven, 1978. Directed by Terrence Malick. 35mm projection at Museum of the Moving Image.
-Funny Face, 1957. Directed by Stanley Donen. Digital Cinema Projection at Film Forum.