Wednesday, March 28, 2012

A Quick & Random Blog

Well time usually passes and I’m stuck wanting to type some 40,000 word essay about a topic in film that’s relevant to me, and then I just watch more movies, read, sleep, etc. Well I’ll take a few moments here because I have some time to kill to discuss some random tidbits that are too small to fill an entire blog, but together can make for an interesting “snack”.


As some of you may have noted earlier in my blogs I have a mystic number to hit for every year of cinema. That number is still standing at 50. Well this week I hit a milestone in the fact that 1933 became the first year of the 1930s to hit that mark. It somewhat pains me to say this but I’m not entirely convinced it’s a great year of cinema. You see part of my theory is that if I’ve seen 50 films from a given year, 10 of them should be 5-star films, provided I was watching good enough movies. The idea is that one out of five films I watch on average will turn out to be spectacular. The best years of cinema have more than 10 great films before I even hit 50 total films, and well I can politely turn my nose up at a given year if that number dips below.

Looking through the list again, I found that I actually wrote Dinner at Eight down twice, so instead of seeing 51 films like I thought, it’s only 50, oh well these things happen. After bumping up my ratings for James Whale’s Invisible Man (which features by far the most evil of all Universal monsters) and King Kong, which is just a fantastic film I was far too cynical to appreciate at age 16, the total comes to 8 films. Not the strongest number to say the least. What is somewhat odd is that of those 8, 7 of them are American movies. Now I have a well documented love of all pre-Code Hollywood films (code was established in 1934), so it’s not extraordinary to say this was my favorite period of Hollywood moviemaking. What is upsetting is the lack of great foreign films I’ve found from the same year. Although the fact that about 1 in 5 of the films I’ve seen from this year are foreign, I guess my sample size isn’t large enough.

Since you’re wondering, if I were to flesh out a top ten this is how it would look:

10. Ganga Bruta
9. Bombshell
8. King Kong
7. Man’s Castle
6. State Fair
5. The Invisible Man
4. The Testament of Dr. Mabuse
3. Design for Living
2. 42nd Street
1. Duck Soup

Now Ganga Bruta I enjoyed but I clearly need to watch it again, and well the rest of the films are fairly fresh in my mind and still hold up. You may have noticed there are no Japanese films, well I’ll get to that.

Japan Before the Occupation

Now I’m not an expert on this subject, in fact I’m very far from it, but for reasons I won’t get into here, I’ve recently come into quite a bounty of Japanese films from all era’s really, but the one’s I’ve been focusing on are the films before 1946. Now I’ll still take some of those Occupation films, but I’ve had a long standing obsession with trying to find foreign films from WWII, considering how few are very well known, and realizing that I lacked a lot of knowledge of what was considered Japan’s golden age, I figured this is a good a time as any to learn more.

So I’ve been stock piling films from Mikio Naruse, Hiroshi Shimizu, and anyone else I can find. If you’ll look at my last film journal post, you’ll see I already went in depth with Ozu last month. Here I’ve been tackling what I can find. Some of the films have flashes of pure brilliance, but I’m still waiting to find that solid masterpiece. That isn’t to say there aren’t already masterpieces of Japanese cinema from the 30s that I’ve seen, just none of the one’s I’ve been watching lately.

Partially because I’ve gotten so many of these films I’ve taken a slight diversion from Rosenbaum’s list, don’t worry I’m still tackling that as well, but these Shimizu films were just too much to resist. Finding Japanese films from the 1920s in any condition is not an easy task. Few countries cinematic roots were more destroyed than Japan, possibly with the exception of the great Scandinavian films of the 1910s. As a result many films of this period we’ve only heard about, and often times films remain in simple fragments. I watched Jiraiya the Hero (1921) this past week which is in horrible condition and incredibly short, but it does stand out as the earliest Japanese film I’ve managed to see. I still feel I’m getting acquainted with Shimizu, considering I’ve only seen about 4 of his films now. Hell I still feel like a novice on Naruse even though I’ve seen 10 of his films already.

Stanley Kubrick Still the Greatest

Rather unexpectedly I watched 2001 and The Shining back to back this past week. I don’t really need reassurance or a reminder to tell me that Stanley Kubrick is in fact my favorite of all directors, but watching these two films again still allowed me that familiar touch of seeing the greatest in action.

Lately I’ve been thinking about sound. Now some people have dedicated much of their scholarship to sound in films specifically and to me it seems like that lest step in film appreciation. We are drawn to plot, characters, performance, then we notice things like composition, editing, and staging, and ultimately sound and music come around. Perhaps this is odd because it seems so obvious to pay attention to, but because it is pretty much the last dimension of film to evolve, it seems the last thing most people pay attention to.

Stanley Kubrick has been much applauded for his visual sense thanks in part to his photography background, and I’m still amazed at John Alcott’s cinematography in The Shining. His staging and pace have been examined in depth, particularly in 2001 where he deliberately set a slow pace for the proceedings. His orchestrated camera movements have earned numerous comparisons to directors like Welles and more succinctly Max Ophuls. However like Abel Gance who was also known more for his editing prowess and his innovation above all else, he was more than capable of utilizing sound to the fullest. I was struck again by the audio in 2001 which is as artistic as it gets. So much of the film is silent, as you would expect space to be. For long stretches all we hear is the sound of breathing. The film is remembered for it’s use of rather well known pieces of classical music, but it is the eerie and ominous score that to me resonates most powerfully. In this regard the film has some similarities to The Shining, which uses much more odd music rather than a traditional horror score. To me Alex North’s contributions to 2001 are perhaps the film’s most overlooked.

Since I’ve written rather long winded essays on each of these films I’m just going to leave it with my sonic observations for now.

…And the award for worst DVD ever is . . .

Years ago I wasn’t poor. I know this is hard to believe for anyone whose met me in the last say 6 years, but once upon a time I had money. Rather than do something odd like save it, or put it away for retirement, I decided to use this money to purchase DVD’s and a whole lot of them. My brother who picked up Dawn of the Dead on DVD from Anchor Bay figured like too many other people that the same company’s version of Night of the Living Dead should be the definitive version. After all this company is well known for putting out quality versions of all kinds of great films, from Werner Herzog’s films to Spaghetti Westerns. Well this is one time they dropped the ball tremendously.

I knew the DVD was terrible, so with the help of Entertainment Weekly which in one random issue actually pointed out which of the many, many, many, many versions of Night of the Living Dead was the one to get on DVD, I ordered the Millenium Edition, which was under $10 if I remember correctly. It featured a commentary track from Romero, and was the complete original film as god, or Romero anyways intended. Well since I’ve decided to educate my lady with the National Society of Film Critics A-List, this film was on it, and well seeing how these young kids today think The Walking Dead is cool for some unknown reason, I figured a little education on the classics was in order. Well I went down to the basement to dig the DVD up and found A Night at the Opera, Night of the Shooting Stars, A Night to Remember, and wait oh shit where the hell is my Night of the Living Dead? Turns out there is a box, or half box of my DVD’s that is either completely lost or severely buried in my attic somewhere. Of the other DVD’s I’ve noticed missing include Chapelle Show Season 2, Citizen Kane, Raging Bull, John Carpenter’s The Thing, Children of Paradise, and possibly others that I just don’t notice missing yet.

Well picking a movie to watch tonight we were on a horror kick, recently watching The Shining (see above) and The Exorcist. Since NOTLD is one of the few horror films on the list, and my copy of Nosferatu wasn’t here (don’t worry that hasn’t been lost) this was the film of choice. Couldn’t find it so decided to watch my brother’s copy. Well turns out there are two versions of the film on the Anchor Bay DVD. The first one which I was severely warned against is a 30th Anniversary edition which features NEW FOOTAGE. Not like restored crap, like some jack ass just shot some scenes and added them to the movie like we wouldn’t notice or we’d think it’s cool. If George Lucas convinced us of anything it’s to leave your damn movies alone, forever. Well we were in luck because there’s another version of the original cut on the film, so we were safe right? Turns out that both the extended version and the original cut now feature a “New Score” which was impossible to switch off. After a few minutes of what was the most inappropriate and worst horror movie music I’ve possibly ever heard I had to shut it off and give up.

So I downloaded the good version online. Yes I know you think it’s stealing, but keep in mind I own the DVD I just can’t find it, so to hell with it. On top of it the damn movie is public domain, hence why people were free to piss all over it as well as they saw fit. So if I go to trial for this, I hope I can dig up my actual copy of the film. On another note the film is still fantastic, and truly groundbreaking. It’s amazing now how much zombies have changed, even if this is the modern birth of the ghouls. You rarely see zombies affected by fire like you do here, and at least early in the film the zombies move kinda fast, and aren’t too dumb to avoid grabbing weapons if necessary. Over the years even Romero has allowed his zombies to be dumbed down (although Land of the Dead saw something of a next step in evolution, but that movie was garbage). It’s amazing how easy it is for zombies to tear open human flesh in nearly every movie, I mean try right now to bite your arm, give it a shot, takes a whole hell of a lot of pressure, and I bet even Lou Ferrigno himself couldn’t rip your intestines out without some surgical tool. I digress, point is fuck the Anchor Bay DVD don’t ever buy it.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

That film was perfect except . . .

Often times the things separating the really good films from the greatest films ever are miniscule little details, tiny flaws, things that just ever so slightly threaten to ruin a perfect movie. Perhaps they stick out like an out of key note in a symphony, or an inexplicable smudge on a brilliant painting. On occasion they are quickly forgotten after the film, other times they burn in your brain and cause you to lose sleep because they have affected what would be one of your very favorite films. Recently I’ve watched a few favorites again and sometimes I brace myself for what I know is the film’s one significant blemish and on one occasion was reminded of an irritation that I forgot about entirely. So allow me to share some of my flaws and the films that suffer as a result. Keep in mind that these aren’t in any particular order.

Flaw #1: Unnecessary Explanation
Offending film: Psycho

I mentioned earlier on this blog that Hitchcock sometimes has a hard time with endings. Sure the ending of Vertigo still gets under my skin and I passionately hate it, but I wouldn’t say it’s a perfect film ruined by a stupid ending. Psycho on the other hand is a perfect film pretty much from start to finish. I’m still convinced that Hitchcock never directed a better film. It’s so iconic that you may often forget just how innovative it was. The way the film shifts protagonists, the music, the editing, the incredible creepiness that is Norman Bates, it’s all perfect. Then after the climax we get a very dull, pointless, and insulting explanation as to his psychological state. Sure maybe Josef Stephano (screenwriter), Hitchcock, and Paramount studios may have thought that audiences in 1960 needed an explanation. Sure modern audiences who have been exposed to countless horror films, and endless shows about serial killers figured Norman out really quick, it does subtract in a multitude of ways. For starters Hitchcock nearly gives you a heart attack after revealing the skeletal corpse of Mrs. Bates, then seeing Norman in drag is another shock and rather than end with a bang we get a coda that was unnecessary but also makes us forget that we nearly pissed ourselves in sheer terror. The other problem is that the explanation itself is entirely too long. The smarmy doctor who explains it figures that the fact he killed Marion is just an afterthought sort of an “oh by the way, yes he killed your sister, sorry about that.” It’s insulting to her sister and boyfriend who’ve spent the majority of the film trying to find her. The film’s saving grace is the ending that features Norman speaking as his mother talking about how “She wouldn’t even hurt a fly”, creepy as hell and a nice saving grace for a film that nearly becomes derailed from one pointless scene. Reading David Bordwell’s blog, he mentions that the epilogue shows inconsistencies in Dr. Richmond’s diagnosis. Which leaves us to suppose one of two things, either a)This scene is even worse because it is factually inaccurate; or b)Dr. Richmond doesn’t really grasp the whole situation. He said he got the story from the mother side of Norman who says that she killed the girl. Ok fine, but how come at the end it is the mother speaking who says Norman did it, and that as the mother she wouldn’t even hurt a fly? Wouldn’t the mother side of the personality be trying to pass the blame on to her son? We remember from earlier in the shower scene that Norman appeared to be dressed as his mother so it lends to Dr. Richmond’s theory that it was the mother, but since Hitchcock doesn’t choose to revisit this sequence from Norman’s/mother’s perspective we’re left with the smug explanation of Dr. Richmond. I like to think that this little detail helps discredit the jack ass doctor and leaves the door open for more creepiness rather than being just a pointless flaw in the screenplay.

Flaw #2: We need a happy(er) ending
Offending Film: Grapes of Wrath, countless others

Ok years ago this one really, really got under my skin. The first time, or two I watched The Grapes of Wrath Ma Joad’s “We’re the people” speech infuriated me, it was so unbelievably hokey and stupid I wanted to reach in the screen and slap the shit out of her for that Hollywood shlock. I heard that the speech itself was in the book, and since I also read that Ford intended on ending the film with Tom’s departure I always figured that was the “true” ending of the film and the coda was just a pointless added on curiosity that I could just pretend didn’t exist. Then I read the book and realized that speech actually was written by John Steinbeck not some Hollywood screenwriter. Perhaps I’m getting sentimental in my old age but the last time I watched the film I actually appreciated the scene, hell froze over. Maybe it’s because I listened to all of it. When she’s talking about “Maybe 30 days of work, maybe none” it adds a poignancy to it. I know from the book that things don’t exactly end well for the Joad family, but the film is choosing to leave you a little uncertain of their future. Perhaps they find a way to make some money, perhaps it’s more hardship, either way their spirit won’t be broken and the American dream remains in tact. So perhaps I can remove this from my list of flaws, but once upon a time I was willing to subtract a half star rating from this film just for that speech, now I think it’s one of the finest American films ever made. Sure plenty of other Hollywood films have felt it necessary to end on a happier note than originally intended, but well you all have your own picks for that.

Flaw #3: Forced subplot
Offending Film: Major League

Major League is without a doubt my favorite baseball film ever made, and probably my favorite sports movie, if you don’t count Raging Bull. The cast is stellar, it’s hilarious beginning to end, and I can’t think of another film that seems to capture the highs and lows of baseball any better. However every film needs a romantic interest, or at least we’ve been led to believe that. So Jake Taylor (Tom Berrenger) needs to rekindle his love affair with Lynn Wessin (Rene Russo). The first scene where they meet grinds the film to a screeching halt, but it goes on like that. When Jake follows her “home” and winds up at her fiance’s apartment as they’re entertaining dinner guests the film really, really grinds to a halt. Sure the sequence in the library is funny and actually good and I appreciate the Moby Dick references later, but generally speaking this great film about baseball and crazy baseball players didn’t need to bring a love interest into it. After all there was no love interest in Platoon, and that film was pretty successful.

Flaw #4: Horribly corny smart ass action hero line
Offending film: Jaws, Aliens, Terminator, many, many more

Apparently Steven Spielberg is responsible for damn near every cliché of the modern Hollywood film, including this one. “Smile you son of a bitch” and then bam Jaws blows up. My much more cynical 16 year old self thought this was idiotic and reeked of cheese, so I hated it. James Cameron adopted this tactic over and over again, including Linda Hamilton in Terminator and Sigourney Weaver’s last line in Aliens. Sure other films have done it before, notably Die Hard and Predator, but occasionally if a film is ingrained enough in my childhood this bit of idiocy seems actually bad ass rather than infuriating. Most guys will tell you it’s the supreme testament of bad assery to say some cool shit before icing the bad guy, but it seems horribly impractical. Some action films are simply littered with corny dialogue that makes the whole picture seem like self parody (Rambo 3 in particular) but it seems worse when it’s simply one line that just breaks the mood of an otherwise gripping and exciting film.

Flaw #5: Inexplicably bad performance
Offending film: Touch of Evil

Orson Welles was easily one of the greatest directors of all time. Touch of Evil was his last Hollywood studio picture, and like most of his other films was plagued with problems and tinkered with after he completed it. His shot selection, camera movement, lighting, and nearly everything in the film is superb, a true masterpiece and perhaps second only to Kane as his greatest film. However for reasons I’ll never, ever comprehend he decided to cast Dennis Weaver as the Night Manager of the Mirador Motel and have him play the character as arguably the most infuriatingly irritating character in screen history. Ok that’s a bold statement, Mickey Rooney’s Puck in Midsummer Night’s Dream is THE most irritating character in screen history, but that film is no Touch of Evil. All his lines of dialogue take a century to deliver he stumbles around the screen like a jack ass and appears to be on some sort of drugs, or at least needs medication. He also happens to be incredibly lazy for no reason, and a fucking moron to boot. Every time he’s on screen I just want to scream. I wish that Charlton Heston’s Vargas beat the every loving shit out of him as he stumbled about with nonsense rather than tell him where his wife was or whether she was even there. His performance is one of the great mysteries of all time. Perhaps even more inexplicably Steven Spielberg cast him in Duel because he loved his performance in Touch of Evil so much, I mean did we watch the same film, or was his performance radically different before the film was restored? Either way he makes my blood boil and although he’s not in the film much his screen time is the equivalent of stinky diarrhea feces all over a lobster dinner.

An honorable mention in this would be Andy Devine in Stagecoach as Buck. His bizarre rasp is incredibly distracting and makes me want to plug my ears every time he speaks. I just watched the film for the first time in nearly a decade and although I never could understand why someone with his voice got any work in talking pictures, it's hardly the unbearable distraction it once was. In the case of some of these flaws, age has tempered my original reactions.

I’ll leave it there for now. There are plenty of other flaws, major and minor that can bring down a great film. Lately with my emphasis on the overrated though I wonder if I haven’t been a little too “glass half empty” as of late, so I’ll try and make the next blog more about films I love rather than nitpicking about things I hate.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Film Journal 2012 - February

1/6 of the year is now complete, I know not a great milestone by any stretch, but getting past leap year we are now onto the month of March. There will be a day or two that's incredibly warm, enough to make us think winter is gone forever, then probably one random blizzard that'll last for a day and then voila spring at last. St. Patrick's day will be here soon enough, I plan on seeing Maggot Twat for those that are interested. We also have Spring Training upon us, and by the end of the month I'll be in full baseball mode ready to be hopefully surprised at Chicago's baseball teams which right now look incredibly bad.

The Oscars have come and gone, not too long ago the ceremony took place at the end of March which gave me an extra month to do some research, which usually meant me researching year's past. Now it is past. I've still not adjusted to 2012 in terms of cinema yet. Mainstream releases stay pretty bad this time of year, and in the wake of the Oscars I anticipate a few worthwhile movies starting to hit the smaller venues. I've found a few yet-to-be-distributed films that I'll get started on over the next month or two, after all I don't want to find myself behind the 8-ball when this year is over in trying reach my unnecessary quota.

Since it is March 1st it's a good time to post last month's journal. Part of me wants to wait so that you all get a chance to read yesterday's post which took an absurd amount of time to write, go ahead read it, it's still there, just keep scrolling. That said you might be surprised by at least one of my ratings this month considering how much I bashed Vertigo.

With a few Oscar breaks, the focus of this year remains on the Rosenbaum list, I now have less than 200 films to go, sure nothing to get too excited about, but progress is being made. I expect the next month to continue in this fashion. For no particular reason I decided to watch a ton of Jan Svankmajer films one day, which you'll note below, and also found myself digging a little deeper into Yasujiro Ozu's work. Some good films were unearthed this month, a few extremely good films and a couple revisited classics that have maintained their status as favorites. Even one or two that may have improved a bit.

Citizen Kane is still the greatest film ever, so it seems pointless to say it's my favorite film I've seen this month. There isn't a type-o down there either, I did watch Major League on consecutive days, once by myself and a day later with a group of friends, hell who am I to say no to the greatest baseball film ever made?

I'll blame it on having two fewer days, but I saw about 10 less films this month than last. I'm still on my way to putting up some stellar year end numbers. I've listed Fantomas under the day I finished the final part, rather than put all five parts on the respective days watched. Sure Svankmajer bumped up my total numbers with his short films, but I watched a few shorts in January as well so those are kind of awash. Any comments, questions, or complaints about my particular ratings I'm more than willing to hear you out. So I'll just shut up and do the posting.

The Newton Boys (1999) 8/10
Hamlet (2000) 10/10
The Scent of Green Papaya (1993) 7/10
Public Housing (1997) 10/10

Up Down Fragile (1995) 10/10
Mikey and Nicky (1976) 8/10
Best New Discovery of the Month
Forbidden Zone (1980) 9/10
Mystics in Bali (1981) 2/10
Iceman Cometh (1989) 7/10

Divorce Iranian Style (1998) 9/10
New Rose Hotel (1999) 5/10
Close My Eyes (1991) 7/10
All About Eve (1950) 10/10
The African Queen (1951) 9/10

Filming Othello (1978) 9/10
Chunhyang (2000) 5/10
The Cat’s Meow (2002) 8/10
Behind the Screen (1916) 5/10
A Married Woman (1964) 7/10
Modern Romance (1981) 8/10

The Iron Lady (2011) 3/10
Le Havre (2011) 9/10
Eadweard Muybridge, Zoopraxographer (1975) 9/10
That Night’s Wife (1930) 8/10
The Birth of a Nation (1915) 10/10
Major League (1989) 10/10

Rock a Baby (1958) 6/10
India (1959) 6/10
Snatch (2001) 7/10
Major League (1989) 10/10

*Corpus Callosum (2002) 9/10
Stoopnocracy (1933) 8/10
Defending Your Life (1991) 10/10
Besieged (1998) 4/10

Citizen Kane (1941) 10/10

Vertigo (1958) 7/10
The Graduate (1967) 10/10

The Philadelphia Story (1940) 10/10

Two Weeks in Another Town (1962) 7/10
Life is Sweet (1991) 8/10
The Castle of Otranto (1977) 7/10
Passing Fancy (1933) 7/10
The Discipline of DE (1982) 8/10
Jammin’ the Blues (1944) 8/10
Gimme Some Truth (2000) 6/10

Johann Sebastian Bach: Fantasia in G-moll (1965) 5/10
Manly Games/The Male Game (1988) 8/10
Historia Naturae (1967) 6/10
The Ossuary (1970) 7/10
Don Juan (1970) 8/10
The Last Trick (1964) 6/10
Darkness Light Darkness (1989) 10/10
Pistol Opera (2001) 6/10
Topaze (1933) 8/10

Brothers and Sisters of the Toda Family (1941) 8/10

The Room (2005) 5/10

On the Waterfront (1954) 10/10
Bombshell (1933) 9/10

The Searchers (1956) 10/10
Psycho (1960) 10/10

The Record of a Tenement Gentleman (1947) 6/10
A Hen in the Wind (1948) 7/10
Tokyo Story (1953) 10/10

My Week With Marilyn (2011) 3/10
The Adventures of Tintin (2011) 8/10
Wayne’s World 2 (1993) 8/10

The Mother of Tears (2007) 4/10

Aerograd (1935) 7/10
The Lady Without Camelias (1953) 8/10
Les Annees 80 (1983) 9/10
11 x 14 (1977) 8/10

The Nativity (1910) 6/10
The Dwarf (1909) 5/10

Frankenstein (1931) 10/10

99 River Street (1953) 10/10

Fantomas (1913-1914) 9/10
Puissance de la parole(1988) 5/10
LMNO (1978) 9/10
Orpheus (1950) 10/10

Chameleon Street (1989) 6/10
Hammett (1982) 7/10
Ivan (1932) 8/10
1984 (1984) 8/10

Best Film of the Month - Citizen Kane
Worst Film of the Month - Mystics in Bali
Best New Discovery of the Month - Up Down Fragile