Tuesday, May 30, 2017

JRO's #77: La Moustache (Emmanuel Carrère, 2005)

Director: Emmanuel Carrère
Writers: Jérôme Beaujour, Emmanuel Carrère (novel), Emmanuel Carrère (screenplay)
Stars: Vincent Lindon, Emmanuelle Devos, Mathieu Amalric
Release Date: 15 May 2005 (Cannes Film Festival)

IMDb SynopsisMarc is sitting in his bath one morning and asks his wife, "how would you feel if I shaved off my mustache?" She doesn't think it's a great idea, for the 15 years they've been married, ... (that's from the plot summary and not the synopsis, but it appears at the top of the page cut off like that. IMDb is weird. I just learned that all of these IMDb summaries and synopses are user-submitted. The one for this movie is incredibly long; I don't think that the writer knew what 'synopsis' meant! http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0428856/synopsis?ref_=ttpl_pl_syn. I think that IMDb usually automatically picks whatever is briefest. In this case, there was nothing brief!)

First Time
Late May or very early June, 2009. I posted about it in the early pre-Howard days of CR5FC: http://chasingpictures.blogspot.com/2009/06/two-close-shaves.html
We were living off-grid all that summer. No electricity meant no moving pictures. About a month into this movie exile, my mother gave me a portable DVD player/screen combo (7" screen, I think) and I was back in film club business. I still didn't watch that much, but I could charge the device at work during the day and get about 2.5 hours of tiny viewing pleasure at night.

Why it's on the List
Well, sometimes I have facial hair (a lot of it), and sometimes I do not. That's probably reason enough to love a film about a man, his moustache, and the people in his life who deny he ever had one. The film is incredibly hard to write about (see the "synopsis" link above, but don't actually read it) briefly because one wants to (in fact, must) engage with the details in order to make sense of the whole. Any review that goes beyond describing the plot and construction of the film risks becoming more about the reviewer than about the film being reviewed. This is always a "danger" of writing about anything, but certain works invite this more than others.

The basic plot of the film is simple. A man shaves off his moustache. No one notices. All of the important people in his life, including his wife of 15 years, insist that he never had a moustache. Yet he knows he had a moustache: he has his memories, he has photos, he has moustache hair clippings. All of this is developed skillfully into a thrilling exploration of truth, identity, communication, and perspective. 

The plot is thin and rightly so. It may be a frustrating film to many, but I find these real frustrations of the film to be emotionally resonant. These are real frustrations, rarely communicated with such power and directness. Sometimes the surreal can achieve what the real cannot.

The film is visually impressive. I haven't tried it, but I'm pretty sure that the film would work just as well with no dialogue. The dialogue is very good and sometimes very important, but the visual language is impressive enough to carry the film on its own. A recurring visual water metaphor communicates the fluid states of identity and relationships. Water is a symbol of both change and permanence. The actors communicate all of their emotions and frustrations, inner turmoils, through physical looks and actions, without ever hamming it up.

Then there's the music. Philip Glass at his best, used to great effect. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rM2KLeoRBGo

Additional Notes/Stats
  • I bought the English translation of the novel(la) and never read it. I probably never will. 
  • This is the only film I've seen Vincent Lindon in. He has 70 acting credits on IMDb. I'm pretty sure I've missed a lot of great performances. I've seen both Amalric and Devos in a few other things, notably both together in A Christmas Tale. Just looking over the filmographies of these three makes me acutely aware of how much contemporary French cinema I am ignorant of.
  • The Seventh Continent is the Haneke film probably in my 101-200 and was considered for the 100 (of course I'm lying about this as we all know that Funny Games is in each of our Top 10s). I bring it up here because the films share a similarity in being "blank slates," very neutrally constructed films that resist interpretation and answers. Ed Gonzalez (one of Brando's favs) wrote about this one: "The film is an unpretentious blank slate—almost totally without point but so unassuming it earns consideration.......The film is scarcely forceful, inviting any and all interpretations but never daring one itself. I'm not sure if this exposes Carrère as a philosopher without a point of view or indicates a refreshing form of art-house charity. Perhaps that's for us to interpret as well." http://www.slantmagazine.com/film/review/la-moustache
  • As a counter to Gonzalez, this essay is a helpful reading of the film, outlining very clear signals/symbols that direct our engagement with the film: http://offscreen.com/view/carreres_la_moustache
  • La Moustache is currently free to watch on Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JlEKa0rBdco

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Chris' #76: The Tree of Life (Terrence Malick, 2011)

Starring: Brad Pitt, Sean Penn, Jessica Chastain, Hunter McCracken
Director: Terrence Malick
Writer: Terrence Malick
Release Date: May 27, 2011 (U.S.)

IMDB Synopsis: The story of a family in Waco, Texas in 1956. The eldest son witnesses the loss of innocence and struggles with his parents' conflicting teachings.

First Time
I saw The Tree of Life at the Art Mission Theater in the summer of 2011--I believe that that's when it finally came to Binghamton. I still remember my theater experience quite well; there were these two annoying people sitting in the row ahead of me and they kept groaning throughout the film, especially toward the end. I guess it was too long and artsy for them, but their little commentary almost ruined my experience. Let that be a lesson to everyone: if you're not enjoying a movie, walk out or keep the commentary to yourself.

Why it's on the List
This decision ultimately came down to The Tree of Life vs. The New World. The two films are both profoundly beautiful, but in the end I gave the nod to this one because I strongly relate to the themes and the relationships.

At the heart of this film is the dichotomy between nature and grace. Mrs. O'Brien (Jessica Chastain) tells us that we must choose which one to follow. I'm sure John can give us more of a Biblical reading into this (and probably did on his old blog), but I do see this theme represented in the differences between the Old Testament and the New Testament. On the surface, Terrence Malick applies this theme to the actions and philosophies of Mrs. and Mr. O'Brien (Brad Pitt).

I fell in love with Jessica Chastain when I saw this for the first time. I don't mean that in a, "I'm an obsessed weirdo" kinda way, but rather, I find her performance in this to be extremely serene. Her presence in this is very soothing and always seems to put me at ease. Mrs. O'Brien is the ultimate maternal figure, displaying both love and occasional moments of austerity. She teaches her three sons to "help each other" and to "love everyone." Mr. O'Brien, on the other hand, teaches his sons how to fight and defend themselves. He wants to make it absolutely clear to them that the world can be relentless in its cruelty; the only way to combat this is to toughen up. I suppose I'm not particularly good at choosing between nature and grace; despite the apparent conflicts, both are needed to navigate through this wild and whacky world.

I'm glad that Malick balances Mr. O'Brien out as a character; he has a very loud presence as this intimidating asshole, but he will also find time to goof around with his kids. Malick also seems to poke fun at him a litte bit; at one point, Papa O'Brien is lecturing his boys as he drives down the residential streets of Waco. Seconds into this diatribe, his boys begin to tune him out and his eldest, Jack (Hunter McCracken), starts fidgeting with the radio. We've all experienced that "here he goes again" moment with certain family and friends, and most of us will deny being the "he" in that sentence.

My own father isn't that similar to Mr. O'Brien, but there are a couple of scenes in this film that really hit close to home. The most relatable moment occurs shortly after Mr. O'Brien leaves on a business trip. When Jack and his brothers find out that their father will be gone for an extended amount of time, they start dancing around the house. Like Brad Pitt's character, my dad is not a monster, nor is he necessarily a bad father, but my brothers and I were known to celebrate when he left the house. We have a better relationship with him now, so I don't feel too guilty about it. The dynamic between Jack and his parents also hits close to home for me. I commend Jack's bravery for being able to confront the behavior of his mother and father; it's not something that I'm always able to do.

As was the case with E.T.The Tree of Life provides some nostalgia for a "simpler time." Simpler time belongs in quotes, since the 1950s (and the subsequent decades) were hardly simpler for so many groups of people. Regardless, I know that when I was three years old, I would wander through the streets of Oxford, New York with my older brother and our friends. We were too young for video games, so our entertainment consisted of Sesame StreetThe Care Bears, and screwing around outside. While I don't feel that this was a superior childhood experience, the independence did lead to some fun adventures. Childhood independence can also lead to danger, too, and Malick does not hide that fact. One of the neighborhood kids drowns at the town pool, and another is injured by a firework. Fortunately, I did not have confront death and violence in the way that Jack did as a child.

Malick's style certainly isn't for everyone, and while I do feel that he can go a little overboard at times, I still find The Tree of Life's finished product to be both beautiful and reflective. Even though the film is slow and non-linear, it provides the audience with the space to think and feel however we want. We are constantly inundated with short flashes of memories. At one point, Jack becomes attracted to one of his classmates; we pick up on this without the use of dialogue or voiceover. Malick allows the images to just exist up on the screen without beating us over the head with on-the-nose narration. I love the camera movements in this; it seems to glide around the characters like some sort of spiritual being.

I was raised Methodist and attended church until the age of fourteen or so. There are specific lines in this film that I can recall saying/thinking during my many conversations with God. At one point, Jack addresses God and says, "Where were you? You let a boy die." Later on he asks, "Why should I be good if you aren't?"--though that question may also apply to Mr. O'Brien. There's a lot to unpack here, but I do feel that these questions are more than fair for a person raised on religion to ask. Again, I appreciate the act of confrontation in this film; it asks the big questions even though the answers are difficult or unknowable.

Additional Notes/Stats
  • This is the only Terrence Malik film on my list. I really want to rewatch Badlands and Days of HeavenThe Thin Red Line is very beautiful, too. Malick rules, and I should probably have more than one of his films in my top 100. Shame on me.
  • I have two more Brad Pitt movies on my list, one of which I'll be discussing within the next week or two.
  • Up until a few days ago, this was the only Jessica Chastain movie on my list, but I just bumped something off to make room for a film that I overlooked.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Chris' #77: WALL-E (Andrew Stanton, 2008)

Starring: Ben Burtt, Elissa Knight, Jeff Garlin, Fred Willard
Director: Andrew Stanton
Writers: Andrew Stanton, Jim Reardon, Pete Docter (story)
Release Date: June 23, 2008

IMDB Synopsis: In the distant future, a small waste-collecting robot inadvertently embarks on a space journey that will ultimately decide the fate of mankind.

First Time
It took me a while to see this, and the same can be said of other Pixar greats like The Incredibles and Monster's Inc. From 1999-2010, I passively avoided a lot of Pixar (and other animated films) because I mostly felt that I didn't need them in my life. Brave helped to turn that around a bit; I saw that in the theater and since then, I have been much more receptive to Pixar and animated features. I believe Jeff recommended WALL-E to me in 2010 or 2011, and we probably watched it together.

Why it's on the List
I'll get the obvious out of the way first--the film is visually-stunning, especially on blu-ray. There have been a handful beautiful films set in space over the years, and WALL-E is no exception. Andrew Stanton and his team also manage to turn a dusty, garbage dump of a city into art. This wasteland is all we get for the first twenty minutes of the film, as there are very few spoken words until that mark. I admire the risk that Pixar took with those twenty minutes--the opening five minutes of Up is another example of this kind of risk paying off. Instead taking a dialogue-heavy approach, Stanton and Jim Reardon rely on some great physical comedy and exceptional use of exposition.

The film is great at slowly feeding information to the audience through the use of Buy-N-Large promotional videos featuring Fred Willard. Willard is the perfect casting choice for BnL's satirically-named CEO, Shelby Forthright, because he's so adept at playing charming yet incompetent characters.

With only antiquated video recordings of Shelby Forthright and his favorite musical to keep him company, WALL-E's solitude is easily felt (it's weird to assign gender to a robot, but whatever); we pity WALL-E until EVE arrives on Earth. I love the relationship between the two and the juxtaposition of their personalities; WALL-E is sweet and a bit of coward, while EVE is trigger-happy and a badass. Stanton and Reardon did a great job in general of applying different personalities to the robots in the film, and the different robot designs are great, too. The closest thing we get to villains in this movie are a couple of robots that stick to their programming. I like the slight twist that AUTO (a nice nod to HAL from 2001) is purposefully sabotaging the Axiom's return to Earth, thanks to BnL's failure to clean up the planet.

The social commentary in WALL-E is obvious but effective, nevertheless. I especially love the moment when two dudes are talking to each other over face chat, even though they're a foot apart. The film effectively calls out our society's increasing sloth and consumerism. The Buy-N-Large slogan is perfect: "Everything you need to be happy."

The social commentary has hints of something you might see or hear on The Simpsons. This makes sense, given Jim Reardon's involvement. Reardon has directed over thirty Simpsons episodes, including many of my all-time favorites: Homer the Heretic, Mr. Plow, Duffless, King Size Homer...okay, really 95% of the episodes he's directed are among the show's best. Brad Bird wasn't the only Simpsons director to go on to produce some great work for Pixar.

Additional Notes/Stats
  • Fred Willard will make one more appearance on my list.
  • I only have one more animated film to discuss and it's not Pixar. I have several other Pixar movies on my 200-101 list, but WALL-E is my favorite.
  • I still have not seen Finding Nemo. I refuse to watch Cars.

Brandon's #77: Ace in the Hole (Billy Wilder, 1951)

The entire film is built around an event; one discovered, slanted, and orchestrated by a desperate/cocky (bad combo) ink slinger. But it's mostly about the reporter himself, watching his every move, scheme, and follow through. Like Holden's character from STALAG 17, he goes out of his way to announce loud and clear that he's an irredeemable piece of shit. ---- I never understood why Holden's character had the gall to act surprised when his fellow POWs beat the tar out of him, considering he has spent the entirety of the film goading and taunting them, giving them every reason to confirm his guilt ---- It sometimes plays out like a race to the bottom between Douglas' Chuck Tatum and Jan Sterling's equally awful Lorraine Minosa.

Each display an unhealthy affection for the rocks that have fallen on and trapped an unlucky treasure seeker, himself an exploiter. It's a big stupid carnival for bored suckers. Wilder's notorious cynicism is spread evenly around the New Mexican vistas, with inhabitants of all intellectual capacities. The dumb crowds, cop pricks, trapped victim and his restless wife, and even old crafty Chuck himself are handed equal daily portions of culpability.

It's easy to try and make cheap connections to modern times, specifically the relationship between the news and its audience or the way the police chief advantageously goes along with the entire charade at the expense of the trapped man's life. But like I said, Wilder's cynicism spreads wider and also he's more interested in Chuck's poison heart.

Why am I drawn to this? Maybe it appeals to some dark personal inclinations toward culture as a whole. That also feels too easy and self-congratulatory. I'm part of it. Certainly because it's so alive onscreen, bizarre and persistently ugly. Wilder will always be a debated figure, perhaps rightfully so, but I've rarely found his naval gazing a turn off. Especially when it, especially in the case of this film, predicted the future.

This film's media circus shines less light on manufactured consent and much more on the hysteria spun out of simple tragedy. Molly Haskell hit the nail on the head when she called it, "a public drunk on sensation." It all starts with Chuck; his anger, his desperation, his love for power and money, his disdain for ordinary people. I'm not sure "impressive" is the right word, but I'm impressed that ACE IN THE HOLE follows through. Considering that most of our judgement and criticism stems from within, I can only imagine what this says ultimately about Wilder.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Brandon's #80, 79, & 78

Copying Jeff....

80. Heat (Michael Mann, 1995)
79. Modern Times (Charlie Chaplin, 1936)
78. El Dorado (Howard Hawks, 1966)

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Jeff's #83, 82, 81, 80, 79, & 78

In an effort to catch up, I'm just going to drop all my belated picks at once in a single post. This upcoming weekend, I can resume as normal. Grateful that we switched to one pick a week now.

83. The Adventures of Robin Hood (Michael Curtiz, 1938)
82. Mouchette (Robert Bresson, 1967)
81. To Have and Have Not (Howard Hawks, 1944)
80. The Big Country (William Wyler, 1958)
79. Leave Her To Heaven (John M. Stahl, 1945)
78. The Turin Horse (Bela Tarr, 2011)

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Chris' #78: The Dark Knight (Christopher Nolan, 2008)

Starring: Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Heath Ledger, Gary Oldman, Aaron Eckhart, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Morgan Freeman
Director: Christopher Nolan
Writer: Jonathan Nolan. Christopher Nolan, David S. Goyer (story credit)
Release Date: July 14, 2008

First Time
Opening weekend in Binghamton. I thought I was going to be able to tell you guys the exact date and time, but I lost my old movie stub. Before anyone accuses me of being some insane Dark Knight fanboy, know that I've held onto many movie stubs over the years. I was collecting them at one point, but haven't done as much of that lately.

You guys ever move something to a new spot so that it's more accessible, only to later forget where that new spot is? That just happened to me with the movie stub. Damnit.

Why it's on the List
It's not fun or easy to write about a film as ubiquitous as this one. Not only has The Dark Knight been discussed ad nauseam, but for too long we had to put with Heath Ledger/Joker Halloween costumes and plenty of bad impressions. With the enthusiasm for this film being so high among fanboys, it feels natural to pull away from it and pick at its flaws. And believe me, even as someone who loves this movie, there are a myriad of flaws, which I will eventually get into.

I'll never forget the build-up and anticipation for The Dark Knight. I remember scouring movie websites for rumors on who would play The Joker. Jeff and I were excited about rumors that Phillip Seymour Hoffman would play The Penguin at one point, though maybe that was for The Dark Knight Rises. It's crazy and sad that Hoffman and Heath Ledger are no longer with us. Ledger's passing wasn't exactly the Kennedy assassination, but I remember exactly where I was when I heard the news. I had just started my last semester at SUNY New Paltz when I got a phone call from Jeff. We were both shocked and pretty beat up over it.

The Heath Ledger worship was pretty prevalent, well beyond the theatrical release of The Dark Knight. I don't mean to suggest that that worship wasn't deserved; if you wade through your own exhaustion over this film, you'll find an amazing performance that was worthy of an Academy Award. I'll also never forget my theater experiences; anytime Heath Ledger was on the screen, it felt like the air had been sucked out of the room. In those moments, I could sense that everyone around me was completely mesmerized.

Ledger's Joker really is one of the best movie villains I've ever seen. Speaking to the character in general, he's a good villain because he doesn't have ridiculous superpowers; he's just a guy, and a guy who could easily exist in the real world. Often the scariest things we can encounter are dangerous people we don't understand, and as Michael Caine explains, "some men just want to watch the world burn." I like that theme, and we can see plenty of examples of that in the people around us in one form or another. The "scars" runner in the The Dark Knight maybe grows a little stale after a while, but I still enjoy it because I like that The Joker just fucks with people. He's completely off-kilter, and you can see that in everything he does--the way he drives, the way he fights, the way he shoots a gun, the way he walks. Ledger's commitment was exceptional, and I'm happy that this performance will exist for a long time.

I'm not a huge Batman, DC, or even comic book fan, but this film really connects with me. As John knows and once gave me shit for it, I've only purchased one comic book in my life, and only did so because Scott Aukerman (Comedy Bang! Bang!Michael Bolton's Big Sexy Valentine's Day Special) wrote it. So all of this is to say that I could easily be talking out my ass here, but The Dark Knight gets to the core of both Batman and Gotham City. I like the gritty realism--the mob controlled banks and businesses, the corrupt cops, the copycat vigilantes. There's some nice world building in this, and in the trilogy in general (love the return of Cillian Murphy). Some might argue that there's too much going on in this film, but I feel it's all balanced pretty well. Maybe it works for me because my attention span is getting shorter and shorter. The pacing of this is fast as hell.

The cast is phenomenal, from top to bottom. I won't shit on Katie Holmes' acting, but Maggie Gyllenhaal is a welcomed addition; she really suits the role of Rachel Dawes. Gyllenhaal gets you to believe that Rachel is a smart and talented prosecutor, and that she cares deeply for Bruce Wayne and Harvey Dent in different ways. I also like that Rachel calls Bruce out on his shit, telling him, "Don't make me your one hope for a normal life." She also doesn't fall for Bruce's "wait for me" bullshit. She is her own person.

I also really enjoy Eric Roberts in this. Up until 2008, the only familiarity I had with him was thanks to a joke on South Park. This was his Travolta-style comeback, and those redemptive moments are always nice to see.

Some of the best written scenes are those between Christian Bale and Morgan Freeman, and Bale and Michael Caine. The Bale/Freeman scenes have some lovely banter that will always make me smile. The Bale/Caine scenes have a lot of that as well, but my favorite thing about their interactions is that they hit on one of the best themes in the film--which is that of an existential Batman. The graveyard shift as a masked vigilante takes a huge toll on Bruce, mentally, physically, and emotionally. He wants Harvey Dent to take over so that Gotham will have "a hero with a face," and also a hero who's actually passed the Bar Exam and isn't just a masked man who felt it was his right to take justice for himself.

I like that this movie actually labels a white guy as a terrorist. You won't hear that on CNN. Those Joker "terrorist videos" are well done, and really amp up the tension. I actually find it to be a little scary when Heath Ledger barks, "LOOK AT ME!" at the fake Batman.

The film also has two amazing action sequences: 1) Batman's capture of Mr. Lau in Hong Kong, and 2) the car chase sequence where the cops are trying to safely move Harvey Dent across the city. The flipping of the tractor trailer is a very impressive stunt, and it's a great way to end that entire sequence.

Sorry to save all of the criticisms for the end. You guys probably wanted to read that and then move on. I'll give most of the dialogue in this movie a pass because it is based on a comic book, but some of it is cringe-worthy--especially during the film's worst sequence, the two boats carrying civilians and criminals, respectively. The less I say about that, the better. Also, the fact that the expression, "close to the vest," rather than the more common, "close to the chest" is said twice in reference to two completely different characters is absolutely insane.

At different points, The Dark Knight also suffers from some of the same sloppy editing that plague all of Christopher Nolan's films.

Sometimes Christian Bale's Batman voice doesn't work; for example, when he says, "I'm not wearing hockey pads;" it's almost impossible to hear that clearly. We'd make jokes back in the day about alternative lines like, "I'm not wearing underpants." But mostly I like the choice Bale, or whomever, made; obviously the voice has been heavily parodied, but it makes sense for Bruce Wayne to be in full disguise, vocals included.

The hearing or trial for Maroni (Eric Roberts) near the beginning of the movie is very silly. Maroni's lackey on the stand pulls a gun on Harvey Dent...in the middle of court! No one patted that guy down?? And then Harvey Dent tells Maroni that if he wants to kill him, he should "buy American." That's some crazy, inexplicable shit.

When I rewatched The Dark Knight this week, I still found it to be very entertaining. When I make changes to my top 100, I'll probably move a few movies ahead of this one, but I don't think I would take it off my list. Brandon commented on my Fountain post arguing that Darren Aronofsky needs a writer. I think that's more than fair. That same rule could easily apply to Christopher Nolan, but I almost admire how ambitious the guy is. He doesn't always succeed, but the good ultimately outweighs the bad for me.

Additional Notes/Stats
  • This is the only Christopher Nolan movie in my top 100, which is a little surprising to me. The Nolan fanboys suck, but I still admire the guy and will defend him. I had Memento on here at one point but then I rewatched it and kicked it off this list. I still like Memento, but not as much as I once did; Guy Pearce just wasn't doing it for me this time. I considered adding Inception to my list; it's certainly sloppy like his other work, but is arguably his best film. I'm excited for Dunkirk.
  • Speaking of movies I removed from my top 100, I also took another Morgan Freeman movie off--Seven--though I didn't remove it for the same reason as Memento. I love Seven and David Fincher is my boy; I just thought about it and realized that I probably wouldn't have much to say. It's an honorary top 100 pick and will definitely be on my 101-200 list.
  • Maggie Gyllenhaal will make one more appearance on my list, albeit thanks to a small role.
  • This is it for everyone else in the cast. There are some good Christian Bale movies that didn't crack my top 100. In the Company of Men was on my Netflix DVD queue before I cancelled it. I grew up with and enjoyed 10 Things I Hate About You. That's probably my other favorite Heath Ledger movie. It's been a while since I've seen Brokeback Mountain.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

JRO's #78: Bringing Out the Dead (Martin Scorsese, 1999)

Starring: Nicholas Cage, Patricia Arquette, John Goodman
Director: Martin Scorsese
Writers: Joe Connelly (novel), Paul Schrader (screenplay)
Release Date: 22 October 1999

IMDB Synopsis: Haunted by the patients he failed to save, an extremely burned-out Manhattan ambulance paramedic fights to maintain his sanity over three fraught and turbulent nights.

First Time
Most likely a video store rental in 2000. I watched it repeatedly back then and bought the DVD and the soundtrack. I used to buy film soundtracks pretty often. That's something I haven't done in a while.

Why it's on the List
"For this, for everything, we are out of tune;"
-William Wordsworth

"Sanctity is made up of heroic acts. Therefore, in our work we are asked for the heroism of finishing properly the tasks committed to us, day after day, even though they are the same tasks. If we don’t, then we do not want to be saints."
-Josemaría Escrivá

"Williams assumed that we could and should take on one another's emotional and spiritual burdens of pain and fear.  For him this might include something as limited as sympathizing with another, but it moves far beyond that to the idea that we might actually bear the weight of another’s pain and fear. It is not just being willing to pick up one end of a heavy load; it is taking upon yourself the full weight of that load. In that process the burden of the other is relieved – so there is substitution. This is an act of will and an entering into another’s reality as if it were our own. We live by Christ’s death on the Cross. And in a more humble sense we may lose our lives for one another as citizens of the City."
-Robert Gallagher on Charles Williams idea of the City and Way of Exchange

This is my favorite Martin Scorsese film. It doesn't quite have the energy of the early films (it's close). What it gains in its place is a sort of simmering weariness punctured periodically by bouts of mania.

I've included the above quotes because they capture the feeling of this very spiritual, very earthy film. What I've always specifically loved about the film is the idea of bearing witness, of co-suffering as something of value. Living in the City means relationship, human beings relating to one another for good or ill. Outside of the city, one can live in isolation and never see one's neighbors. In a city environment, neighbors are always present and the neediest make themselves known. There can be an anonymity to the city, but BotD stresses the community. The paramedics in BotD cover the same beats, deal with the same emergencies, and see the same people. They must learn to do the same tasks properly day after day with no relief. Much of this film is dark comedy, because dark comedy is one serious way of making it through shared suffering.

The above is a positive way of looking at the themes of the film. There is also a clear negative strain. Cage's paramedic is not burdened by death. "We're all dying," he says almost cheerfully at one point. He is not haunted by death. He is burdened by life. He is haunted by the City being too alive, which includes daily dying. Not only are the living suffering and weighing down on him; the dead won't stay dead. It's a City of Ghosts. Every street corner is full of life, even in death, and life means pain. The problem explored in the film isn't how to live with death. It's how to live with so much life.

The ending is powerful. Throughout the film, the Paramedic wallows in despair, ignoring or actively destroying his own health as if doing so will allow that health and vitality to be transferred to those without it. It is only in a final moment when he stops choosing to die for others and instead chooses to live for another, literally taking on pieces of medical equipment so that his life signals are regarded as the life of the other, does he find some peace. Paradoxically, this moment in the film perfectly illustrates the way of exchange. The paramedic gains the father's body's fight to survive while the father gains the paramedic's heart's desire for the rest of death.

Additional Notes/Stats

  • "I realised that my training was useful in less than ten percent of the calls, and saving lives was rarer than that. After a while, I grew to understand that my role was less about saving lives than about bearing witness. I was a grief mop. It was enough that I simply turned up."
  • This is a flawed film. I know that. It's more interesting to me for that. The performances especially are a mixed bag. Goodman is mostly okay. Arquette passively floats through this. Rhames gets some funny stuff to do, but that's offset by the weakness of goofy goth kids, etc. Sizemore and Anthony are okay. This is not an actor's movie and I sort of like that. These actors are there more like Bressonian models, for Scorsese to pose in various ways to achieve an overall effect of the city that he is going for. Each character is not so much individual as part of a greater whole.
  • I guess I'm a fan of the Scorsese-Schrader team. I [mostly] like their work together more than I like any of their work apart.
  • According to IMDb trivia, "This, along with Sleepy Hollow (1999), was the last movie to be released on the LaserDisc format." RIP LaserDisc.
  • This is the only Scorsese movie of the 90s to have no Oscar nominations. Obviously my taste and the tastes of the Academy are out of synch.
  • http://siskelandebert.org/video/5HRDR389DS99/Roger-Ebert-amp-The-Movies-1999-Bringing-Out-The-Dead-Body-Shots-Crazy-In-Alabama-Three-to-Tango-amp-The-City
    I just watched this this morning. More than anything else, it reminded me how sad it felt to lose Gene Siskel in 1999. (Nothing against David Poland.)
  • “If you think of it, ‘Last Temptation,’ ‘Kundun’ and then ‘Silence,’ our next one, will be the sort of trilogy of religiously-based films, and I think ‘Bringing Out the Dead’ is almost in there,” Schoonmaker says. “That is the one that has never gotten recognition. But I can’t tell you how many people talk to me about that movie. There is a ripple that’s going on. Bertrand Tavernier, the really wonderful French director, just wrote a review of it again. I have friends, when they have friends over for dinner, they make them watch it. It never got its due because it’s about compassion. That’s why.” http://uproxx.com/hitfix/thelma-schoonmaker-hopes-martin-scorseses-bringing-out-the-dead-will-eventually-get-its-due/
  • This is the only Scorsese on my list. He's never been a favorite of mine, but I get why he's so beloved. I'll watch every new film he directs. I still regret missing Silence at the theatre. I was out of town at a game convention the week it opened. I planned on going the following week and Regal had already pulled it. I decided not to put any documentaries on my list (there were only a tiny handful that were even considered), but his Personal Journey through American Movies is absolutely essential, my favorite thing that he has ever done.
  • This is the second and last Nicholas Cage film on my list. Raising Arizona just barely missed being on the list.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Chris' #79: The Fall (Tarsem Singh, 2006)

Starring: Lee Pace, Catinca Untaru, Justine Waddell
Director: Tarsem Singh
Writers: Tarsem Singh, Dan Gilroy, Nico Soultanakis
Release Date: September 9, 2006 but it didn't reach the U.S. until May 30, 2008

IMDB Synopsis: In a hospital on the outskirts of 1920s Los Angeles, an injured stuntman begins to tell a fellow patient, a little girl with a broken arm, a fantastic story of five mythical heroes. Thanks to his fractured state of mind and her vivid imagination, the line between fiction and reality blurs as the tale advances.

First Time
2009 or 2010, at my brother Brent's old apartment in Greene, NY. I think he had recently purchased an HDTV and a blu-ray player, and Jeff suggested this as a movie we should test them out with.

Why it's on the List
Films 82 and 81 on my list were connected by similar themes of identity and white privilege. 80 and 79 are appropriately paired because of their visual beauty and their polarizing directors. The difference between Darren Aronofsky and Tarsem Singh, however, is that I don't stand by Singh's other films (though I've never seen The Cell). Singh, like Aronofsky, has made a string of bad films recently, which may have soured people's opinions of his earlier work. For me, Singh could put out a bad movie every month for the next year and I'd still love The Fall.

As was the case with The Fountain, I wondered if a rewatch of The Fall would hold up for me in my thirties, and it absolutely delivered. Cantinca Untaru, who plays the little girl, Alexandria, in this is fucking amazing. This might be my favorite performance by a kid actor in all of film, but it'd be interesting to think on that some more. Untaru is so natural in this, and while I'm sure a lot of her lines are improvised, she also does some nice acting work as well. Much of the appeal of this film comes from her performance, as well as her interactions with the stuntman, Roy, played by Lee Pace.

Yes, the film is visually gorgeous, but I'm not sure that I would enjoy it as much if you removed Untaru and Pace. I don't understand why critics only wanted to praise the cinematography, though I can also see that as a reason why certain people don't like it. Maybe it is "too perfect" or it's beauty overload for some.

Pace and Untaru have such great chemistry in this. Normally I wouldn't care about this kind of thing, but I actually hope that the two still communicate with each other to this day. It seems like they really struck up an emotional bond, one that I'm sure was pretty difficult to walk away from. But Lee Pace is also very patient with Catinca; he listens to her and treats her as an equal. Pace has been playing a lot of villains lately, and while he does make a good bad guy, I love him here as a likable but very flawed character. Their relationship is equal parts heartbreaking and heartwarming.

I love the story that Roy tells and I love that Alexandria contributes and eventually becomes a character in it; it's a fun play on narrative. But the story itself presents a band of heroes, all with different skills and backgrounds. It gives a multicultural feel to the film that I appreciate. The film feels very inclusive, but probably could use one or two more heroines.

Outside of the story, the hospital setting works very well. Normally they are awful places, but this particular one functions like a small community. It's a living, breathing place.

The locations in this are beautiful but big props to the costume, set, and production design people. I don't need every film to look like this, but everything here works for me.

I also love that the film doesn't take itself too seriously. I'm sure others would argue that, but there are plenty of silly lines and moments in it--for example, when Governor Odious comments on his own death.

Without touching on the ending too much, I still get emotional when I watch it. The last scene between Pace and Untaru doesn't hold anything back. Cantinca's reading of, "She loves him," is heartbreaking and Lee's line of, "We're a strange pair, aren't we?" is a wonderful note to end the story on.

And not that this is a spoiler, but The Fall ends with everyone in the hospital watching a film play out on a hand crank projector. Then it cuts to a montage of stunts from films in the 1920s and teens. Like Scorsese's Hugo, it's a nice love letter to stunts and to film. I mean, really, what's not to like?

Additional Notes/Stats
  • This is the only Tarsem Singh movie on my list and the only one I've actually seen. I might watch The Cell at some point, but I don't care about the others. If one of his upcoming movies gets some good buzz, I might check it out. I don't stand by his other work, but I am rooting for him.
  • This is it for Lee Pace. I like him in the things I've seen him in, but most of the movies he's done kinda blow. Pushing Daisies is the only other thing I enjoyed.
  • As great as Catinca Untaru is in this, I'm kinda glad she wasn't cast in a bunch of movies as a result. Maybe that would've taken away some of the magic of her performance in this.
  • This is one of two films on my list about a movie stuntman. More controversial directors on the way.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Jeff's #84: High and Low

#84: High and Low (Akira Kurosawa, 1963)

This is should be much higher on my list.  If I had watched it again, I probably would have put it in the top 50.  It's one of the great procedural films ever made, and also just boasts some of the best uses of geometric space in film history.  Sorry I don't have much more to write - just trying to get caught up on all the picks.

Jeff's #85: Europa

#85: Europa (Lars von Trier, 1991)

They just added this to FilmStruck, so I'm hoping to watch it again soon.  I haven't seen it in a long time, so I'm not even sure if I'd keep it on the list if I saw it again or not.  But, I can remember being completely mesmerized by the experience.  It's such a  bold vision and a completely unique stylistic experiment.  I've got a lot of love/hate for von Trier but this is him at his most inspired.  Looking forward to seeing it again.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Brandon's #81: Beau Travail (Claire Denis, 1999)

I saw this right after Flora was born, a missed nap opportunity. By this I mean that both kids were asleep, which presents an advantageous opportunity to catch up on lost sleep. Instead, I watched this, a movie that I've long wanted to see. It's great. That's all I got for now.

Chris' #80: The Fountain (Darren Aronofsky, 2006)

Starring: Hugh Jackman, Rachel Weisz, Ellen Burstyn, Mark Margolis, Sean Patrick Thomas
Director: Darren Aronofsky
Writers: Darren Aronofsky, Ari Handel (story credit)
Release Date: November 22, 2006

IMDB Synopsis: As a modern day scientist, Tommy is struggling with mortality, desperately searching for the medical breakthrough that will save the life of his cancer-stricken wife, Izzi.

First Time
I saw this in the theater during the first few weeks of its run; I want to say that it was the one inside the mall in Syracuse. My brother Brent was a sophomore at Le Moyne at the time and I think I watched this with him and Jeff. If it wasn't there, it may have been at Cinemapolis in Ithaca.

Why it's on the List
Right off the bat, I feel the need to defend this pick. I suppose it's because opinions on this are so divided; people either love or hate it. I'm happy to see that Glenn Kenny is on my side. I tried to track down his review of The Fountain, but couldn't find it online. There is a pull quote from his review on the front cover of my DVD copy, however, so at least his praise is etched in paper.

The Fountain marked the point when a lot of people started to turn on Darren Aronofsky. I don't remember much of Pi and Requiem for a Dream, other than the latter being very brutal. Black Swan brought on a second wave of detractors, and maybe rightfully so; it's definitely a ridiculous movie, but I don't hate it.

I was excited to rewatch The Fountain this week. The last time I saw it was nearly a decade ago and I was curious to see if it would hold up. I was twenty and a freshman in college when I saw this for the first time. Back then, I was still in a serious relationship with the girl I started dating during my freshman year of high school. I was a young romantic; the film appealed to me then because I loved the idea of an immortal couple living together for centuries. But what would I think of the film now that I'm a jaded thirty-year-old?

Visually, the film is stunning; most of the negative reviews at least acknowledge that. Critics pointed to the lack of substance behind the cinematography as the reason why they disliked it. I could understand if someone said that the relationship between Tommy and Izzi isn't exactly new territory--but how often do we see fresh stories about couples? And back to the visuals for a second; I will say that all of the effects still hold up after all these years.

On the story and the relationship between Tommy and Izzi, I feel that that still holds up for me as well. During my rewatch, I was actually a bit surprised at how emotional I got. The film just hits all the right notes for me. Neuroscientist Tommy (Hugh Jackman) is a very sullen figure. His life is consumed by the pursuit of a cure for his wife Izzi's (Rachel Weisz) cancer.

I appreciate the film's reflections on death; Izzi, unlike Tommy, does not fear it. She even suggests to him that death can be an act of creation, with the idea of planting a tree over a body's final resting spot. Izzi's hope and spiritualism balance out Tommy's fears quite well. I love her curiosity and her interest in anthropology and thanatology. The chemistry between Jackman and Weisz also works very well. You can sense a lot of history, love, and devotion. Izzi is also able to get Tommy to drop his humorless act every now and then. The film doesn't beat you over the head with depressing shit.

Rarely do I recall seeing trailers for the first time, but I can still remember what I thought when I saw this one. Based on the trailer, I was led me to believe that we'd be seeing High Jackman and Rachel Weisz at multiple stages in history--instead of the three time periods presented in the film. But I actually like that the story sticks to the three periods, and that it even rehashes many of the same shots and scenes. It creates the sense that, when we think back on our lives at the end, we'll conjure the regrets, the sweeter moments, and the harder ones.

It's clear to the audience that Tommy should've spent more time with Izzi than he did working in a lab to find her cure, but it's still heartbreaking when he tells Ellen Burstyn that he's always in the lab because of Izzi. When all you have is hope, it's difficult to step out of it. We can also understand where Izzi is coming from when she hides her declining health issues from Tommy. We've all hidden things from the people we love because we're afraid. It's very easy to relate to both characters, and to see both sides of the mortality coin: fear and acceptance. I often vacillate between the two.

As far as my own criticisms are concerned, I wish the scenes in Spain and New Spain were in spoken Spanish with English subtitles. That kind of thing bothers me in general. The whitewashing is also a valid criticism, now that it's 2017 and we're more aware of that kind of thing.  Mostly the score works for me, but I'm not a huge fan of the main theme when it hits its crescendo. It starts to feel a little hokey at that point. Also, the most far-fetched thing about this movie, in my mind, is that a grown man would go by, "Tommy."

Overall, I still love this movie and would defend it until I am dead and shot into space, heading toward a supernova.

Additional Notes/Stats
  • This is the only Aronofsky film on my list. I do have a complicated relationship with his work, but I still root for the guy. He's got another movie coming out later this year and I look forward to it.
  • No more Hugh Jackman, Rachel Weisz, or Ellen Burstyn either, but I enjoy all three in the movies I've seen them in. None of them ever phone it in.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Chris' #81: Being There (Hal Ashby, 1979)

Starring: Peter Sellers, Shirley MacLaine, Melvyn Douglas, Richard Dysart, Jack Warden
Director: Hal Ashby
Writers: Jerzy Kosinski, Robert C. Jones
Release Date: December 19, 1979

IMDB's Synopsis: A simple, sheltered gardener becomes an unlikely trusted advisor to a powerful businessman and an insider in Washington politics.

First Time
Sometime before April 2012; that was the first mention of it on my old blog, so I can at least say that with certainty. If I recall correctly, I watched this when I was going through some of the more notable movies in Hal Ashby's filmography.

Why it's on the List
In my last write-up, I talked about how Catch Me If You Can doesn't acknowledge race and white privilege. Being There, on the other hand, faces these themes head-on in a very frank way. I didn't intentionally pair these two films, but watching them back-to-back felt like kismet. Frank Abagnale Jr. and Chance the Gardner (Peter Sellers) are exact opposites, yet they achieve similar levels of success that oft goes unchallenged.

I can also understand how the character of Chance could be considered problematic to some, but I feel the overall tone of the film is respectful. During my rewatch this past week, I had forgotten what the audience actually learns about Chance. Going off of what Louise (a black cook and former co-worker of his) has to say about him, he's just a simple man who never learned to read or write. I suppose that sums him up quite well, but I do wonder if he has some other disability.

But it is Louise who sees Chance on a late night talk show and proclaims, "It's for sure a white man's world in America." I'm glad that the film bluntly acknowledges this fact and seems to make it reoccurring theme.

I haven't looked this up to confirm it yet, but I have to believe that there are a handful of articles out there arguing that this film predicted the rise of Donald Trump. It's actually pretty humorous, until you remember what a vile scumbag Trump is. But like Donald, Chance is illiterate, is mistakenly seen as a wise & successful person, and even has a brief meeting with the Russian ambassador at one point. Also, Chance proudly admits, "I don't read papers; I watch television." The parallels are a little scary, and I'll need to move on before I get really pissed off. I don't want to associate Peter Sellers' lovely performance with our sack of shit President.

Anyway, I enjoy how meticulous Sellers' performance is. The simple, good-natured energy of Chance is naturally infectious. The level of mystery surrounding him also adds to the character; we, the audience, can understand why people are drawn to him, but we also know something they don't know. There's an improv term called, "finding the game." Here, the "game" is that Chance can only effectively speak to basic gardening techniques, and everyone else applies his/her own deeper meanings to those words.

The comedy in this is very dry. No one is ever intentionally telling a joke; and yet, there are some nice laughs throughout.

I love the sequence where Chance leaves the old man's house for the first time and wanders through the streets of D.C. The use of Deodato's "Also Sprach Zarathustra" over those shots is the perfect match of sight and sound. In fact, the use of 70s music in this is great overall - "Basketball Jones" being another highlight. The rest of the soundtrack is composed of classic piano pieces, which set the right mood for the more somber scenes.

The film does a great job of balancing comedy with heartfelt scenes and solemn moments. You get a little bit of everything in this. The emotional weight is provided by health condition of Benjamin Rand (Melvyn Douglas), and the toll his prolonged death is taking on his wife, Eve (Shirley MacLaine). Rand is "an older man dying on a young man's disease," who just wants his younger wife to be happy and cared for after he's gone.

Ben and Eve have a very loving and earnest relationship - I love the early scenes with Douglas and MacLaine in this. Eve is also a complex, fleshed-out character. She's very sheltered and admits that the only friends she has are her husband's older friends. I definitely pity her in that regard. But like Sellers, Douglas and MacLaine are great in this, especially Douglas. We don't get to spend a lot of time with Benjamin Rand, but it's a treat every time we do.

I also enjoy how big and crazy the ending is. I won't spoil it here, if you haven't seen it, but I do approve. Many see this film as biting political commentary, and while it does effectively make its points, I think the film truly excels because of its more human moments and its poetic musings. As Jack Warden, who plays the President of the United States, finishes Ben's eulogy, he leaves us with the line, "Life is a state of mind." There's a lot of truth to that, and the film has a bigger message than just, "the dumbest, most incompetent people in Washington are the ones in positions of power," ...as relevant and as true as that actually is right now.

Additional Notes/Stats
  • This is the only Hal Ashby film on my list. I have another one on my 200-101.
  • Peter Sellers will make one more appearance on this list.
  • Shirley MacLaine is also great in Terms of Endearment, The Apartment, and The Trouble With Harry, none of which are in my top 100. I'd like to see Postcards from the Edge.
  • 12 Angry Men is probably on my 200-101 list, but this is it for Jack Warden in my top 100.
  • I probably should've put Ninotchka on my list, giving me another Melvyn Douglas movie, but that'll have to go down as an oversight for now. I might look to move that up my rankings. Also still need to see Hud.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Brandon's #82: L'Enfance Nue (Maurice Pialat, 1968)

The thing is, Francois is such a little shit. I'd like to smack him for what he did to Fang. He deserves much of what he acquires, good and bad. His caretakers are similarly complicated, not the monsters we are used to seeing. In one scene, his "grandpa" is holding him down and slapping him with a hand towel, the next he's teaching him how to repair his broken door, gently letting him know that bygones are always going to be bygones and that the slate can always be clean.

Pialat isn't afraid of the ugly details and offers their warm counterparts with no warning. This is the freshest entry for me, so I may regret it. I doubt it.

Monday, May 1, 2017

JRO's #81: In the Company of Men (Neil LaBute, 1997)

Remember that time when Neil LaBute announced himself with this film as a sick, twisted American Eric Rohmer? That was a great time that didn't last.

JRO's #82: Rawhide (Henry Hathaway, 1951)

I really wanted to re-watch all of these. I haven't. I've fallen behind. In the past two weeks, I've watched a couple of episodes of Better Call Saul and one episode of Fargo. And one late night insomnia binge re-watching a couple of seasons of Breaking Bad. So, yeah, TV Club, Top 100 TV shows/episodes???

Rawhide has everything that I want in a Western. My old blog's review doesn't give much detail, but you can at least get the clear sense that I enjoy the movie as much as a movie can be enjoyed.