Saturday, June 17, 2017

JRO's #76 & #75: Mr. and Mrs. Smith (Hitchcock), Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead (Stoppard)

I'm just trying to catch up. I didn't re-watch these, so they get this lame non-post. #73 post will hopefully be up in the next couple of days to catch me up.

JRO's #74: Results (Andrew Bujalski, 2015)

Starring: Guy Pearce, Cobie Smulders, Kevin Corrigan
Director: Andrew Bujalski
Writer: Andrew Bujalski
Release Date: 27 January 2015 (Sundance)

IMDB Synopsis: A frustrated son tries to determine the fact from fiction in his dying father's life.

Availability: Netflix Watch Instantly

First Time
Mid-to-late-2015? I knew there was a new Bujalski film out. I can't remember if I tracked down a torrent or waited for a DVD release. I had already seen Mutual Appreciation (promising), Beeswax (good), and Computer Chess (excellent); Bujalski was on my shortlist of Directors To Care About, so I had some high hopes for this one, though also some reservations about Bujalski "going mainstream."

Why it's on the List
The reason this is on the list is simple. It came out in 2015 and I've watched it five or so times already. It immediately clicked with me and still makes me smile and laugh as of this last re-watch.

Bujalski is not an American Rohmer, but he's the closest thing we have so far. There's nothing visually Rohmeresque about this film. But there are thematic preoccupations. Rohmer's rigorous formalism and Catholic filter are more challenging, but Bujalski's wrestling with his muddled Gen X heritage of confusion resonates with my own specifically American confusions.

Like Rohmer films, Bujalski films are propelled by conversation. Here, in addition to Rohmer's/Bujalski's probings of love and desire, how the sexes interact with one another, we are given a meditation on the body (which is not foreign to Rohmer), humorously mediated through the world of phsyical fitness trainers as a broken, depressed, fat schlub enters this world in an attempt to improve his own life. There is commentary on what it means to be a personal trainer, someone whose only job in life is to use their own bodies on behalf of others. This is a weird job (but, in theory, not too different from any teaching position). Pearce's gym owner believes in his mission to better others, to have everyone fulfill their dreams, though his own dreams depend on others wanting or needing to exercise. And yearning for more than lip service to spiritual fulfillment, this gym owner learns that he still lacks much. *Physical* fitness and discipline are what they are, but they also become metaphors for something more, or at least are marked as achievements that are hollow on their own.

Bujalski's film takes a small mess of contemporary broken people (gym people who sleep around for sport, divorced men), believable people who relate to one another imperfectly, and slowly, slyly, works toward a true happy ending. This is True Comedy.

Also, it's just undeniable that this film hit me at the right time. I was weak and fat and lazy for a long time. I decided to do something about it. From running to squatting to whatever, I slowly learned about "physical fitness" from 2013 to 2015. I was and am healthier than ever in the past, but I also learned that I'll never love that world. I'm still fat with bad habits. Good health is still foreign to me. I don't really like it. I'm a stranger there. I love beer and tobacco and books and board games and highly processed snack foods. But I've done enough lunges to be able to laugh along as Kevin Corrigan does his silly walks down the hall. And I've watched enough YouTube tutorial videos to both respect and be disgusted by so many in the fitness world, sometimes having both feelings at the same time.

Additional Notes/Stats

  • There's only one other film on the list more recent (same year) than this one.
  • I had no idea who Cobie Smulders was before this film. I've since seen a couple of episodes of How I Met Your Mother and thought they were pretty stupid. I haven't seen her in anything else of interest. Guy Pearce is of course usually great; what is special here is how earnest and vulnerable he plays his character. I recognized Kevin Corrigan as a character actor before this. This was his moment to shine in the lead role and he shines.
  • "If you were to stop smoking, and drinking, and eating so much shit, then you would be unstoppable."
  • Damsels in Distress hit me in a similar way as a recent comedy that works as true comedy.  I'm not entirely sure why this one made the list and that one didn't. I love that they both end with dancing.
  • Fear Excuses Surrender

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Chris' #74: Big Fish (Tim Burton, 2003)

Starring: Ewan McGregor, Albert Finney, Billy Crudup, Jessica Lange, Helena Bonham Carter, Marion Cortillard, Steve Buscemi, Danny DeVito
Director: Tim Burton
Writer: John August, based on the novel by Daniel Wallace
Release Date: December 10, 2003

IMDB Synopsis: A frustrated son tries to determine the fact from fiction in his dying father's life.

Availability: Hulu

First Time
I'm fairly certain that I saw this in the theater. I can picture a movie stub from Regal in my head (must be another one from my collection that I've misplaced), and this seems like something I would've gone to see. I was seventeen at the time of its release.

Why it's on the List
We've all met one or two people like Edward Blume before. Edward (Ewan McGregor/Albert Finney) is a storyteller capable of commanding entire rooms, holding the attention of a large group of people with his elaborate tales. Even if you bring up the subject of icebergs, people like Edward will have an anecdote at the ready. This quality can be very charming and fun initially, but if you spend enough time with people like this, their entire act can grow tiresome.

Will Blume (Billy Crudup) eventually outgrows his father's schtick. In the intimate moments where Edward tells his son these stories before bed, Will is completely captivated. As Edward begins to repeat these stories and share them with others, we see the father/son relationship deteriorate. This is the second father/son conflict movie on my list and it won't be the last.

One of the main things that I love about this movie is that we're able to understand where Edward and Will are coming from. It's easy to get caught up in the charm of Ewan McGregor and Albert Finney; the stories they tell are equal parts entertaining and captivating, but that doesn't stop Will from pouring cold water on his father's audience. Eventually we learn the justification for this. Edward didn't spend a lot of time with his son, and when he did, all he'd talk to him about were the same "big fish" stories.

Due to the structure of their relationship, Will grew up believing that his father had a second life. This drives a wedge between father and son, and the only thing that paves the way toward reconciliation is Edward's failing health. Will seizes this moment to pursue the truth, to find out who his father actually is. In response to his son's Fox Mulder-esque crusade, Edward explains that he's always been his true self, and that if his son can't see that, it's his own failing. In this duality of fantasy and truth, most of us might choose the fantastical version over the mundane reality, but due to Will's overexposure to fantasy, he explains to the Blume's family physician, Dr. Bennett (Robert Guillaume), that he actually prefers the truth.

As is the case with The Fall, Big Fish offers two very different stories--the one at the surface is very fun and imaginative, while the story buried underneath is darker and heavier. I love movies that split time between action-adventure and a complicated relationship. Big Fish's action-adventure side has a lot to offer. There are certain things that Tim Burton does very well, and this script is right up his alley. I'm sure this story works best as a novel, but Burton does a great job of bringing this to life; combining fantasy with real life has always been his forte.

There are five sequences in this film that I will always love:

1. Edward notes that it's true that time stops when you see the love of your life for the first time. As Edward bobs and weaves his way past the people frozen in time, he knocks some popcorn out of his way--a nice touch from Burton. Then, as Edward explains, once time starts again, it moves extra fast to catch up. I love the contrast of the editing.

2. Sandra Blume (Jessica Lange) watches her husband submerged in the bathtub. Sandra gets in and the two share a very sweet moment in the tub. Lange and Finney have great chemistry in the limited scenes that they share. The Edward/Sandra marriage is a believable one.

3. As Edward drives down a rural, Alabama road in a rain storm, his car is eventually hit by waves of water and he soon finds his vehicle at the bottom of a pond. The lights of the car hitting the darkness of the water is beautiful, and having the naked woman that Edward saw earlier in the film swim into frame really adds to the mystique of the shot.

4. Will and Edward are in the hospital and Edward asks his son to tell him the story of his death. Will is reluctant at first and explains that he doesn't know how to tell it. Luckily for us, Edward insists and we're treated to a wonderful payoff for their contentious relationship. Every time I've watched this sequence, I've either choked up or cried. It's a lovely moment and presents a fitting send-off for Edward Blume. Seeing everyone from the film gathered to wave goodbye to him is powerful. If your life has a positive impact on the people around you, not only will that give your own life meaning, but it can give meaning to your death too.

5. For me, the funeral presents a better ending than the one we actually get. The last line of the film talks about how, through Edward's stories, Will's father becomes immortal. That's a cute note to end on, but it's not a new idea; I feel like most of us already know about the power of handing down family stories. Turning my attention back to the funeral, I love the reveal of the people from Edward's tales--the giant is just a very tall man; the Siamese twins are just twin sisters who are metaphorically joined at the hip. As Sandra notes to her son, "Not everything your father says is a complete fabrication." The power of Will's discovery of this fact is felt in a very organic way. To see these different characters interact with each other, gathering around to hear and tell stories about Edward is the perfect conclusion.

There are other moments that I relate to. The witch's house on the outskirts of Ashton reminds of this old house in the town that I started to grow up in. It was this creepy, rickety old building that the neighborhood kids and I thought was haunted. I don't believe anyone lived in it, nor were there urban legends of anyone living in it, but eventually it was knocked down and replaced by a gas station.

Big Fish was the first time I saw Marion Cotillard in a movie. I remember having a crush on her when this was released, and hell, I still have a crush on her. I love the way she humors Albert Finney. Finney is an adorable old man in this--he's very charming and funny. Ewan McGregor makes the transition between young Edward and old Edward seamless. McGregor is able to play cocky without coming off as a huge asshole; instead, he maintains the charm and the Alabama accent might have a lot to do with it. His Minnesota accent on the latest season of Fargo is fine, but it doesn't hold a candle to his accent in Big Fish.

Steve Buscemi and Danny DeVito both add some nice humor to the film. I love that it seems like DeVito's Amos Calloway is taking advantage of Edward (and he is), but all of the intel that Amos feeds him is accurate--it's a fitting twist. Norther Winslow (Buscemi) is not just a great name for a poet, but is also a great Southern name in general. Norther's poems are comically simple, and Buscemi does a great job of selling them as works of genius, and playing defensive when he's met with critique. The cast is excellent across the board.

Even though I've been gushing over this movie, I think #74 might too high for it. As noted, I drew comparisons between this and The Fall, and I do feel that Tarsem's film is better. Big Fish is definitely a personal favorite of mine, but after rewatching it, I do realize that there other movies I've written about that I enjoy a bit more.

Additional Notes/Stats
  • This is one of two Tim Burton movies on my list--the other is in my top 15. If I could go back in time, I probably would've selected The Nightmare Before Christmas over The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad. That pick was a last minute replacement and if I'm being honest, TNBC had a much larger impact on my childhood. Sorry, Tim, I fucked up.
  • Ewan McGregor and Danny DeVito are two actors I love that I won't get to talk about again. I can't point to another McGregor movie that I admire, but he's great in everything I've seen him in. There might be a DeVito movie or two in my top 200.
  • Miller's Crossing is one of those movies that I haven't spent enough time with. If I were to add another Finney movie to my list, it would be that one.
  • This is it for Jessica Lange as well. I need to rewatch Tootsie soon so I can continue to follow along with the Craig's List podcast. Tootsie is number #65 for Craig. I want to like that one more than do currently; that isn't to say I hate it, I just didn't grow up watching it.
  • Marion Cotillard should be on this list a lot more, but this is it for her. That's right, no Midnight in Paris in my top 100; the Cinemapolis crowd must've finally gotten to me. I'll probably have it in my top 200. Cotillard's also amazing in Rust and Bone, La Vie en rose, and especially Two Days, One Night.
  • There's one more Buscemi in my top 100, which feels like underrepresentation to me.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Jeff's #76: Notorious (Alfred Hitchcock, 1946)

#76: Notorious (Alfred Hitchcock, 1946)

Here's what I wrote about this one in the last blog post I put up:

"I think this is my fourth time seeing what many critics consider to be Hitchcock's first truly masterful American film (For my money, he was hitting it right out of the park in his first year over here with REBECCA and the underrated FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT).  It seems to be something I return to every few years or so, mainly out of curiosity to see how my opinion on it has changed.  The first time I saw it around 16, I didn't really care for it.  There was just something cold and anti-climactic about it that kept me at an emotional distance from it.  Every time I've seen it since, I've become more impressed by how assured the hand is that's directing it all.  Before seeing it this time, I read an amazing article on how to read the visual language of NOTORIOUS by the late, great Roger Ebert.  In the article, Ebert talks a lot about the strong/weak dynamics of staging and framing in cinematography and how adeptly Hitchcock can show a character's interior struggle (like Grant's Devlin) simply through the way they move throughout a scene.  One thing that Ebert doesn't mention but that he inspired me to notice is how little Bergman's Elisha moves in the location of the frame throughout the film.  I believe I counted only once or twice in the entire film where Bergman isn't framed on the dominant right of a shot (right in that golden ratio location where our eyes instinctively move).  Just as she is the cynosure of the male character's attention, so is she ours within the frame.  And, although she Uappears to be a weak pawn within their patriarchal jockeying, she holds the dominant position because she ultimately owns her sexuality.  Her sexual freedom is what keeps her fixed and dominant and what makes the other male characters squirm around her in the frame.

With that all being said, I still feel an emotional detachment from the film (largely due to the unsympathetic nature of each of the characters), but I'm just so impressed by its visual brilliance and ultimately its perversity.  It's interesting to watch the film now and see how it has next to nothing to do with espionage and everything to do with the pettiness of jealousy and the precarious authority of male desire.  "

UPDATE:  I watched this again this week, and it just gets better and better every time I see it.

Jeff's #77: The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (Jacques Demy, 1964)

#77: The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (Jacques Demy, 1964)

I've been struggling to write about this.  I re-watched most of it a few weeks ago and had to turn it off.  It just hit too close to home.  I don't know if there's a better film to capture the devastating loss of love and the bittersweetness with which we muse on it years later.  In my mind, it stands alongside Tom Waits' "Martha" as one of the greatest artistic representations of a doomed but never forgotten love affair. The fact that this entirely sung, candy colored musical is too emotionally overwhelming to watch during a difficult time is a testament to its surprising power and why it deserves to be on my list.  Even though I couldn't finish it, I knew it had me spellbound the same way when I first saw it. What begins as a stylistic gimmick slowly morphs into this melancholic onslaught of sorrow and regret.  It just floors you.

In an unrelated sidenote - I will be moving to Binghamton in a couple weeks.  Brandon's gonna put me up for a few weeks, and I'll be working at the Garage.  Looking forward to being closer to everyone again.  Hopefully we can all catch a movie and a beer soon.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Chris' #75: Fight Club (David Fincher, 1999)

Starring: Edward Norton, Brad Pitt, Helena Bonham Carter, Meat Loaf, Jared Leto
Director: David Fincher
Writer: Jim Uhls, based on the novel by Chuck Palahniuk
Release Date: October 15, 1999 (U.S.)

IMDB Synopsis: An insomniac office worker, looking for a way to change his life, crosses paths with a devil-may-care soap maker, forming an underground fight club that evolves into something much, much more.

First Time
Sometime in the early aughts, via DVD rental or a friend's copy. My brother, Brent, may have bought it and shared it with me and Jeff. This film found its audience on DVD, so someone gave me the whole "you've gotta see this" spiel.

Why it's on the List
I want to try something new; before I rewatch this, I want to take a moment to share a few thoughts about it. I don't know why, but I'm kinda dreading my rewatch. I suppose it's because Fight Club is so played out at this point; it's a safe bet that dudes in college are still hanging the posters on their walls. Regardless, Fight Club has a place on my list because it did have a huge impact on my life. I know that that's far from resembling a unique experience, but nevertheless.

Those of us in our late twenties and early-mid thirties probably know people who still quote Fight Club. There are quotes from this movie that I still think about and say--mainly: "...polishing the brass on the Titanic," and "you decide your own level of involvement," which I use when applicable in conversation. Reviewing the list of quotes on IMDB, I do see some lines that I still find to be good or amusing. The majority of quotes, however, are pretty nauseating. There's nothing sadder than a thirty-year-old dude sincerely quoting Tyler Durden. I can understand Tyler's appeal to boys and young men--he makes some decent points about capitalism and consumer culture--but after a certain point, he's an exhausting character to think about.

If the movie has a saving grace after all these years, it would have to be David Fincher; he's another big reason why this film made my list. Fight Club was my first real exposure to Fincher, since I'm pretty sure I didn't see Seven and The Game until the early-to-mid 2000s. If I were to build a Mount Rushmore for my favorite contemporary film directors, David Fincher would definitely be on there.

Wikipedia mentions that Fincher "supervised the composition of the DVD packaging and was one of the first directors to participate in a film's transition to home media."

There's no citation for that line, but it makes sense; the packaging and the menus matched the film perfectly. The DVD was also loaded with special features, and David Fincher's commentary track was the first of its kind that I ever listened to. This DVD set a high bar for what a film's home release could provide.

Now, on to my rewatch...

I still heavily approve of the opening credits sequence; between the visuals and The Dust Brothers' sound, it really sets the mood for what we're about to see. The concept is cool and inventive, and eventually we find ourselves in office building with little to no lighting. As is the case with Fincher's other work, the scenes are noticeably dark. The lack of lighting adds some realism to his films, but it also helps to settle us into the subject matter.

Regardless of how you feel about the material, this movie is perfect marriage of script and director. A lot of information is thrown at us in a short period of time, and Fincher does a brilliant job of keeping everything copacetic, while stylizing it in his own unique way.

Chuck Palahniuk's schtick is to find humor in the darkest, most disgusting places. Jim Uhls captures the tone of the novel perfectly. I remember reading the book after seeing this and I've always preferred the film adaptation. I enjoy the plotting of the movie a lot more and it helps to have these characters played by Brad Pitt, Edward Norton, and Helena Bonham Carter. I still enjoy Norton's monotone narration; he's great in this, as he usually is. Same deal with Pitt. Carter is also amazing in this, but I think I appreciate her performance more now than I ever have. Fans are quick to praise the two male leads, but Carter does more than hold her own; she's often the most interesting character in her scenes.

Having said that, it's still a male-dominated script and we know very little of Marla Singer. She's labeled a tourist, a faker (among other pejoratives) and is eventually reduced to this "fuck buddy" role for our unstable antihero. The film's stance on women is problematic to say the least, but given the tongue-in-cheek nature of its overall tone, I won't fault it too much. If I recall correctly, Palahniuk, a now openly gay man, has gone on the record to express confusion over the level of adoration that meatheads and "tough guys" have for this clearly homoerotic film. But with a line like, "We're a generation of men raised by women; I'm wondering if another woman is really the answer we need," it's my hope that Palahniuk and Uhls are expressing that sentiment with a shitload of irony.

That line is pretty gross, but it does address a very real problem in our society--the epidemic of overgrown children. I'll be quick to note that I, too, fall short in some areas that a thirty-year-old man should not, but there are plenty of dudes in this country who take too much pride in their lack of development. That line in particular seems to sum up one of the mantras of the alt-right scum in this country, so if I could take one line out of the script, it would have to be that.

The script gets progressively douchier as the film goes on (until the big reveal is made). Mr. Robot does a great job of removing the more obnoxious aspects of the script, choosing instead to focus on the themes in Fight Club that actually work and resonate with people. Again, I won't dismiss every point that the film makes; it's just that all of those points are dialed up to 10.

But one theme that I personally relate to is the feeling of rejection that Jack (Norton) has once Tyler shows more attention to Jared Leto's character. (Side note: it's amusing to think back on a time when Leto was taken more seriously as a person.) Jack and Tyler start Fight Club together, with exclusivity being a big part of it. Unaware that the club doesn't belong to him, Jack begins to feel wounded as he sees it grow beyond his control. I have my own control issues in this way and am flawed in my desire to want to be a part of something that only me and a small group of people are involved in. Hi, film clubbers!

Despite my criticisms, there are plenty of aspects to this film that I still enjoy--Fincher's contribution, to name one. #75 is probably too high for it, but I'm not exactly sure where it belongs. In all honestly, I think I've seen Fight Club too many times to truly enjoy it anymore. That's an odd admission, but let's see how I feel about it when I'm forty!

UPDATE: I can't believe I forgot to mention the other songs on the soundtrack; with Tom Waits' "Goin' Out West" and the Pixies' "Where Is My Mind?" it is a damn good one. Both songs play at perfect moments in the film, especially "Where Is My Mind?"--a great way to end it. My best friend in high school bought me a copy of Surfer Rosa for my birthday one year because he knew I loved that song. It's funny, I didn't end up listening to the album a lot back then because I wanted every song to sound similar to "Where Is My Mind?" And now, I love the rest of that album, Doolittle, and Come On Pilgrim. Great stuff.

Additional Notes/Stats
  • There's one more David Fincher film on my list and it'll be a long time before I get to write about it; two of his movies are on my 200-101 list.
  • This makes it back-to-back Brad Pitt picks, meaning that I only have one left. The next one is in my top 20.
  • I love Edward Norton, but this is it for him...which is to say that The Grand Budapest Hotel and Moonrise Kingdom are not in my top 100. Moonrise almost made the cut, and while I do love Budapest, it feels too early to call them favorites. Norton is excellent in everything I've seen him in, even if the movie isn't particularly good. His performance in Primal Fear will always stick with me.
  • Helena Bonham Carter will make one more appearance on my list, and I'll be talking about that movie next weekend.

Brandon's #75: The Thin Red Line (Terrence Malick, 1998)

There seems to be a great divide forged after the release of THE NEW WORLD where suddenly this great giant of cinema supposedly lost his way. I don't buy it. He takes risks. One of his biggest risks was divorcing himself from the pressures and constraints of narratives, not simply "traditional" narratives but narratives altogether. He seems to even reject the populist notions of time within narrative or even time itself.

THE THIN RED LINE follows a soldier (actually an entire unit, but the action often revolves around this guy) stolen from a similar freedom and condemned to the confines of military regiment. It's about a heretic, one who was freed by a group of local natives in the South Pacific. Having to resume duty is tantamount to hell itself sprinkled within. Nobody knows why they do what they do, nor if what they do has made anything beyond an insignificant difference.

Somehow the obligatory narrative/big budget obstructions form a perfect marriage between Malick's poetry and the war entertainment we've all grown so accustomed to. Here Malick discovered something as rare as any of his current balletic experimentations, the ideal balance, if you will. I still think it's a masterpiece.

I saw it first in '99, rented and viewed at Tara's mom's house, half of me hoping it'd offer the kind of thrills I'd seen in Spielberg's war film of the same year. Second viewing was in Ithaca, at my friend's girlfriend's parent's house, right after viewing THE NEW WORLD, still one of my favorite films of the young millennium.

War films recreate the end of human lives, lost needlessly and callously. Even the most wrenching deaths can't hide that. Why did we think that our love for goodness and truth would protect us from this torture? Taking a hill means tossing young existences carelessly into the unknown. Malick knows this. He isn't interested in the heroics that mask such antiquated atrocity. He also isn't interested in victories, large or small. At the same time, Malick doesn't revel in violence and destruction, soldiers lying wait are still amongst creation and can't help but be dwarfed by its complexity, perhaps their own place amongst the leaves.

I love the range of emotions in the "I blew my butt off" scene. It's hilarious or perhaps just ridiculous at first, followed by our enlightened soldier's lovely reminder that everything will be ok; even in death, something good can shine right through. THE THIN RED LINE is a perfect mixture of sadness, transcendence, horror, madness, and futility. Fuck rank and cloud. Anyone who questions Malick's genius need not look any further than this. It's a true gem and as close to a true anti-war film as anything ever made, not simply because it rubs our faces in destruction but because it reminds us of our humanity; like water merging together, it becomes hard to tell us apart.

It's a wonder this was made and I'm very thankful for it. The ending shows us a lovely instance of sacrifice from the film's most unabashed philosopher. All is grace as the glory shines through.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Brandon's #76: Black Narcissus (Powell/Pressburger, 1947)

I thought I would add Robert Rossen's THE HUSTLER as my next entry but discovered that it doesn't work entirely for me. The suicide turns the tide and renders it unfit. Instead I'm going with the mighty BLACK NARCISSUS, which I praise here: