Tuesday, November 27, 2012

What Do YOU Think, Max Von Sydow?

If you are in New York the next few weeks, the wonderful people down at BAMcinematek have put together a retrospective of the Swedish superstar Max von Sydow. So over at The Playlist, I have a patented listicle of my favorite performances he gave. Not as many obscure choices as I'd like (a lot simply remains unseen in my book), but the ones I do have are all excellent. Also, BAM is showing them all in 35mm, so unless you hate movies, you better go support their endeavor. And read my article here!

Also returning is another installment of The Disc-Less. With Hitchcock ruining the legacy of the cinematic giant, and The White Shadow streaming, I listed five great British films you won't find on DVD, including films by Terrence Davies, Mike Leigh, Ken Russell, and the Boulting Brothers. So check that piece out over here.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Talking Lincoln

I'm quite late to the party, but Steven Spielberg's Lincoln is easily one of the most fascinating texts I've encountered this year. It's an extremely layered political drama that has three auteurs - Speilberg, Tony Kushner, and Daniel-Day Lewis - transforming what could have been an odd history lesson into a vividly gorgeous work of cinema. 

While I don't have a full review, I was glad that Josh Spiegel invited on his podcast, Mousterpiece Cinema, to discuss the film (which is being co-released by Touchstone, which owns Disney, thus the inclusion). It's a long one, with Josh, his co-host Michael Ryan, and I batting around different ideas and perspectives on the film throughout. You can listen to it here, but since it's a bit long and some people are averse to the podcast form, I also posted the notes I worked from in our conversation below. But do take a listen.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Trainwrecks and Missing Masterpieces

The apparently lovable Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence star in Silver Linings Playbook, a front runner for the "holy hell this movie is a train wreck of utter proportions" for 2012 award. I seem to be pretty alone in my absolute despise for this movie, but I have a lot of moral issues (as well as acting, script, and camera movement issues) that I think this film completely ignores. Scott Tobias tweeted something that everyone who either absolutely loves or pans this movie is taking it way too seriously, but that's perhaps one of my issues: it treats these huge psychological issues in American society as no less than quirks for a charming unpretentious film, reducing them to really offensive broad strokes. I'm not saying we can't have comedies with mental illness - One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest is quite funny - but for Christ's sake we can do better than this. Anyways, I wrote this one for InReviewOnline, the former house of Sam C. Mac (#SMacDown™) and the new home of (former Cinephiliacs guest) Kenji Fujishima.

Over at The Playlist, my second column of "The Disc-less" covers five disreputable American classics in search of DVD releases. Basing this around Heaven's Gate, I chose some awesome films like Ishtar, Greed, and The Last Movie. I ironically chose Elia Kazan's Wild River, which a) technically was available in that expensive Kazan box set Fox put out (bad research on my part), and b) was announced this morning for a Blu-Ray by Fox. But still, a worthy read.

Monday, November 12, 2012


Hey, you can buy me in print! The journal Film Matters asked me to write a couple book reviews when I was just finishing my undergraduate degree. Because of the odd way publishing works, the first one is just getting published. It's a review of Aaron Baker's introduction to Steven Soderbergh. It's a pretty good introduction, basically arguing we need to examine his Hollywood works as more subversive and his experiments as somewhat more commercial than they appear. Not without its flaws, but it's better than other people who think they are experts (should I link? Nah!). Anyways, you can subscribe to the journal or purchase a PDF of just my part here.

Friday, November 09, 2012

Image of the Day and Some Notes on Hitchcock Studies

You might recognize the above shot from Alfred Hitchcock’s North By Northwest, as Cary Grant suavely walks through the window in order to escape, and catches the eye of this lovely young woman. What you probably don’t recognize is that such woman is Patricia Cutts, a TV and film actor from the era, who also happened to be the daughter of Graham Cutts.

You might have heard Cutts’s name thrown around over the last year as the director of The White Shadow, the restored “Alfred Hitchcock” movie that was found and will be available thanks to the work of the Film Preservation Bloagathon and Fandor very soon.

I’ve collected some notes based on a small private lecture given by Charles Barr last night about the state of Hitchcock studies, of which he is pretty much the father. The most important point is that there’s a ton of research to be done in early Hitchcock studies, and if you know of any archives relating to the names or films I mention, you should definitely get in contact with me and I'll pass on the information.

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Vamps: Sweet Fang

Written and Directed by: Amy Heckerling
Starring: Alicia Silverstone, Krysten Ritter, Richard Lewis, Sigourney Weaver, Wallace Shawn, Justin Kirk, and Malcolm McDowell
Director of Photography: Tim Suhrstedt, Editor: Debra Chiate, Production Designer: Dan Leigh. Original Music: David Kitaygorodsky

            The wondrous Amy Heckerling can be a coy writer and director, as especially seen in her latest film Vamps. A horror comedy about two vampires who are trying to live forever in their twenties (like actually literally), it is so easy to dismiss the broad comedy for its own inconsequentialness. But such a texture is essential to Heckerling’s approach to this and other films like Clueless or Fast Times at Ridgemont High. No need to shove themes or ideas down one’s throat just let them glide by, as vampires are wont to do.

            And thus Vamps is a charming film about growing up and getting in line that (excuse me) nails the coffin in the rest of our current vampire metaphor culture. Its humor is silly, but Heckerling sells it all with an energetic wit, even when it’s the image of Alicia Silverstone drinking the blood from a rat by a straw. Silverstone, who starred in Clueless, joins with the always adorably mesmerizing Krysten Ritter to play the vampires Goody and Stacy in present day New York. Goody isn’t just a bit older than she looks—she was actually changed back in the 1840s, but lies to her bestie Stacy about, who got turned in the 1980s. The two have vowed off human blood and attend AA-style meetings with other vampires in between their nights of clubbing and sex with the texting generation with no end in sight.

Monday, November 05, 2012

Cinephiliacs: Holy Bedroom Motors

The absolutely drop dead gorgeous Nicole Calfan is the object of desire for Monsieur Pierre Etaix in Le Grand Amour, which is a top candidate for favorite films I've watched for the first time this year. I review the film, which is touring via Janus, as part of the latest episode of The Cinephiliacs with Ali Arikan. Ali is an excellent guest, and we talk about the cult comedy Withnail and I. And if you didn't catch my episode with the absolutely lovely Farran Nehme-Smith, make sure to listen to that as well. She's a great insight on classic Hollywood cinema, and we talk about the little seen noir Three Strangers, which has Peter Lorre in an awesome romantic lead role.

Saturday, November 03, 2012

Cloud Atlas: A Sextet of Human Life

Cloud Atlas
Written and Directed By: Andy Wachowski, Lana Wachowski, and Tom Tykwer
Starring: Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Jim Broadbent, Ben Wishaw, Jim Sturges, Doona Bae, Hugo Weaving, James D'Arcy, Keith David, Hugh Grant, Susan Sarandon, and Zhou Xun.
Directors of Photography: Frank Griebe and John Toll, Editor: Alexander Berner, Production Designers: Hugh Bateup and Uli Hanisch, Original Music: Tom Tykwer, Johnny Klimek, and Reinhold Heil.

            A symphony begins with a note from a single instrument. Alone, it is meaningless. If that instrument plays through a series of notes, it begins to take shape, and become a progression of sounds through time. They may move us in their simplicity or their complexity. But another instrument joins in, followed by dozens and dozens more, and soon we may begin to truly feel overwhelmed. Remember that great scene in Amadeus as Mozart and Salieri slowly place the pieces of the Requiem Mass in D Minor. We hear the individual instruments, but it is when we finally hear their culmination that we may realize its masterstroke.

            A common mistake in film criticism is an old adage that the portmanteau film lives and dies by its individual episodes. “Would I like to see that story as a whole film?” But if the filmmaker could make a whole story out of that single one, then it wouldn’t be a portmanteau film, would it?

            All of this brings me to Cloud Atlas, a gargantuan philosophical epic from three directors: Andy and Lana Wachowski, as well as Tom Tykwer. The film has already been torn to shreds by plenty of critics, knives out, ready to tear through its individual strands, as well as heralded by others as a savior of big budget filmmaking with heart and soul. So where do I come down in this grandiose debate, one that will surely decide the future of the filmmaking as we know it? (The box office flop may have done that, but they also said movies were dead after Heaven’s Gate). Cloud Atlas is a symphony. Its individual strands when reduced to their elements are stagnant and full of platitudes, impossibly hopeless in their ability to inspire hope. But Cloud Atlas isn’t six stories—it’s one grand narrative, playing notes that form together to something that tore away at me with its vitality, its limitlessness in believing in itself.

Thursday, November 01, 2012

The Disc-Less: Haunted Houses and Leslie Nielsen

I'm really excited to announce a new column I'll be writing at The Playlist, which will be called "The Disc-Less." Each column will highlight films you can't find on DVD in North America, with five films centered around a common theme. This week: scary movies! I write about films as different as The Keep and A Page of Madness. Check it out here