Saturday, February 24, 2018

plato's cave fifty five (being a film journal)

Kogonada - Columbus - 2017
Enjoyed this film. Big enthusiast of the architectural work of Eliel Saarinen and slightly of Eero Saarinen, the way the film dealt with that work was visually impressive. The main character evolving into a talented young women from a more than interesting girl makes for a good story. Had a slight problem with the style of the film which had good intentions (a strong familiarity with Ozu, Bresson and similar filmmakers) but didn't get past those influences in a way that was completely satisfying. The actors were top notch but one was always aware that they were acting and acting in a movie. This style could be a dialogue with the mechanics of cinema, the camera in relationship to the world, to buildings, to people, but it never got to that level. Despite the crit, it was a good watch and emotional.

Jerzy Skolimowski - Moonlighting - 1982
See previous post.

Steven Soderbergh - Logan Lucky - 2017
Second viewing. Saw initially in theater. Better half wanted to see so a second viewing.  Good business with Adam Driver, Channing Tatum, Daniel Craig and Hilary Swank. Funny film and enjoyable.

S. Craig Zahler - Bone Tomahawk - 2015
Reading John Williams' Butcher's Crossing (perfect book!), so decided to have a night of westerns. The first one was Bone Tomahawk, from the director of Brawl in Cell Block 99, no fucking around with this film. Heavy.  Good cast, Kurt Russell and Richard Jenkins were top notch (Jenkins really funny), as was Patrick Wilson. Tearing out the voice box deal not easy to watch but easier than watching Wilson stick the bloody thing in his mouth. The tendency to violence by Zahler not dissimilar to Michael Mann's except more gory.

James Mangold - 3:10 to Yuma - 2007
Had seen the original which is a real serious film, but not the remake. Assumed it would be not great, but was quite a bit better than I expected. Christian Bale and Russell Crowe in top form, Peter Fonda quite good too, good cast in general.

William Wyler - The Westerner - 1940
Second or third time watching this. For any fan of Walter Brennan, this is one of those films that is just so so perfect because of his performance. Brennan as a film heavy is one of those things this film viewer lives for, another example would be My Darling Clementine (my boys....). Brennan was born in Lynn Massachusetts, I used to live near there and people would say Lynn Lynn the city of Sin. He is one sinner son of a bitch in these two films. A slight drawback I didn't remember is some of the domesticated scenes. A friend recently said he had trouble with pre 1970s films because all the actors were like this *, it is actually somewhat true with many actors from the early days, in this film Brennan is totally contemporary to me... subtle and sinister, yet Doris Davenport was pretty much exactly like the ham from In Living Color. I edited her out in my mind and enjoyed the shit out of this film.

Steven Soderbergh - Ocean's Eleven - 2001
Great cast. Very entertaining film, had only seen bits here and there on cable. Soderbergh is often times capable of making a really tight film.

Glow series, first couple few episodes.
Tried watching this because I like Marc Maron but it didn't arrive to my head properly.  Funny how these shows have such gratuitous nudity. The best uncalled for nudity example is in True Detective season one with the Vashti Bunyan music. I feel bad for these actress having to do nonsense like this so some old bugger will not change the channel.
Sam Wood - The Pride of the Yankees - 1942
Second time seeing this. Good solid film. Forgot Walter Brennan was in it, good viewing this after The Westerner a few nights before with both Cooper and Brennan. They are a good match. Teresa Wright too! Underrated actress.

Coen Brothers - Inside Llewyn Davis - 2013
Second time seeing this. Saw in theater initially and did not care for. A bit more liking for it this second time, the Oscar Issac character is just so unlikable but understanding him as someone that will just die without reaching his goal of being famous is easy to relate to. I found more to like in the film with that concept. Not everybody is Bob F. Dylan, some people are just losers, and losers are ok in my book.

Alex Garland - Annihilation - 2018
Ex Machina writer and director Alex Garland, plus composers Geoff Barrow & Ben Salisbury and cinematographer Rob Hardy, all from Ex Machina (Hardy also shot Red Riding: The Year of Our Lord 1974). My favorite parts of the film were Natalie Portman in a Ramboesque shot with her partially in slow motion shooting a machine gun. Visceral! Also, much of the music/sound design was top notch, like when Jennifer Jason Leigh turns to light, the music/drone was truly beautiful and intense. And the Jóhann Jóhannsson like melody inside the lighthouse as Portman meets her clone, had the melody in my head for a while. The cinematography of the film was quite strange.... pastel-like colors, not much contrast or richness in color, not really my taste but it had its moments and gave the film a unique quality. Some of the early photography inside the lab (and before) looked overly video in quality and it was hard to say if that visual style gave much to the film, except for an extreme coldness in aesthetics. I bought the blu-ray of Stalker, and have yet to really watch it all the way through. As a young man about town, Stalker was one of the films that most inspired me.... I like the relationship of Annihilation to Stalker.

plato's cave fifty four (being a film journal) : early nineteen eighties nihilism and anti-romanticism

Recently posted some criticism of the currently popular trend of paying hommage and/or to pastiche 1980s films and aesthetics. Many positive comments were received from people who have similar feelings about this and I decided to finally start an analysis of a side chapter in film history that occurred in the early 1980s and came to an end after about four years with the introduction of works by John Hughes, the brat pack, and the like of right proper bastards. This dreadful business came in and pretty much destroyed an even trajectory of film history that really culminated in the 1970s and a few years into the 1980s.

Notes on a personal history with the cinema of the 1980s : This viewer was born in '74, and was a latchkey kid who had cable and later a VHS player. Starting in the late 70s, I started watching a ton of film, mostly on TV and often times at the theater with my mother.  My father would invite me to sit in on a lot of films he would get on VHS a little later on. I started with watching 70s films and inevitably moved into 80s films through my teens. By the time my late teens hit, a pretty strong dislike for the majority of 1980s cinema was in full swing, with the exception of works like They Live and Repo Man, which presented a clear criticism of the decade. Through my twenties, the 80s represented a decade in film to stay the hell away from and it was not until my thirties that I started to see hints of nihilism, darkness, dystopianism, and anti-romanticism in some slightly obscure works of the early 1980s. One of the first film that comes to mind is Jerzy Skolimowski's Moonlighting from 1982, and the first one that will be analyzed at a certain level. The question remains after years of watching these... what are the qualities that make these films so distinct? Why are these films so obscure now even with youngsters that live and breath the 80s (and now 90s) culture? These early 80s films actually seem more relevant to contemporary film and the world in general. The world of Hughes is like some kind of escape, why does a highly sophisticated culture of young people, in terms of political awareness, choose escapism in film? Now in my 40s, I can't completely deny the pull of the typical 80s film, I have rewatched many over the last few years, but in all honestly, the majority of them just leave me feeling nothing, whereas a film like Moonlighting is just so alive and relevant.

To give a little more context, some other classic films of interest in this early 80s would include Ivan Passer's Cutter's Way from 1981, Sidney J. Furie's The Entity from 1982, Ken Russell's Altered States from 1980, Andrzej Żuławski's Possession from 1981, Alan Clarke's Made in Britain from 1982, Barry Levinson's Diner from 1982, Carroll Ballard's Never Cry Wolf from 1983, Robert Bresson's L'Argent from 1983 (The fucking master!), James Cameron's The Terminator from 1984, John Carpenter's The Thing from 1982, and many more.

Some notes on style and structure in Moonlighting :

The film starts with unsettling electronic music by Hans Zimmer played over credits followed by some distorted speaking from a Polish airline announcer (pictured above). Immediately the viewer feels unbalanced. A slow audio dissolve follows to an electronic pulsing heard over a close up of Jeremy Irons (pulsing light out of focus in the distance, image above). All very strange with brilliant sound design, cinematography and editing. The story begins with Irons (Nowak) and his Walserian dialogue which becomes the dominant element in the film. His inner voice stumbles between mumbling, indistinct nonsense, worries and caper-like planning.  Nowak is our anti-hero, an outsider in the Colin Wilson sense. There are not too many films that can pull off 2 hours of picture and sound with a story that you can describe in less than 20 seconds and that really has almost nothing of interest to the quotidian viewer. Perhaps similar to the stories of Beckett... like Molloy and his sucking-stones, moving the stones from pocket to pocket.

The story in this film is so wonderfully absurd: Polish men under the leadership of Nowak, smuggle tools and money into London to work on a rich Pole's flat. They have a time line and budget, and have trouble meeting both. They run out of money and Nowak must resort to thieving, using some truly headscratching methods that are actually quite brilliant. Luck has much to do with his success.

The film was shot by Tony Pierce-Roberts, who photographed Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (TV Mini-Series), A Room with a View, Howards End, and The Remains of the Day.

The sound design (by David Stephenson) is so lush in this film. One early scene when the Poles enter the dwelling begins with a doorbell ringing and slowly disintegrated to footsteps, distant drones and vague electronic sounds, followed by pigeon wings flapping with slight reverb.

Part of what makes these films so uniquely strange is that they have the rawness of 70s cinema, but through the magic of cinema (sound design, editing, cinematography) this rawness is brought to a surreal-like level. The more well-known films of the 80s seem to be a bastardization of this magic. Post Star Wars bullshit, films that push your buttons and make attempts to take away your ability to be an intelligent viewer, these facile experiences are what Duchamp called "retinal pleasure." Early 80s films have a hyper-realism related more to Kafka and Walser than the rotgut of typical 80s film.

Humor, absurdity and isolationism. The world seen through the eyes of the outsider.

Thanks to TW and TM for discussions on this early 80s strangeness. Any readers know of writings on this subject, I would be interested.

Friday, February 16, 2018

plato's cave fifty three (being a film journal)

Alejandro G. Iñárritu - Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) - 2014
Second time seeing this masterpiece. Really one hell of a film; Raymond Carver... rendered by an almost likeable has-been, Naomi Watts and an arrogant impotent drunkard... photographed by the master Emmanuel Lubezki (Malick's The New World and The Tree of Life, Children of Men, and The Revenant). Didn't know Bill Camp (The Night of, Midnight Special, The Killing of a Sacred Deer, 12 Years a Slave) as an actor when first seeing this, and it was very excited to see him doing some crazed bugger in the street Shakespeare. Also from the recent Twin Peaks; Clark Middleton has a brief appearance. The many levels of reality and unreality make for an engaging picture, as the picture is made by a serious man. Wanted to do a double feature of recent Iñárritu film The Revenant, but was too tired. Soon I hope.

Stephen Daldry - The Hours - 2002
Had seen this film previously and couldn't remember it. Didn't find it very engaging despite the cast being top notch.

Makino Takashi - Films 2002-2017 Excerpt - 2002-17
Partner in crime pointed out this guy's work. Jesus it is amazing.... only have seen this vimeo excerpt, will have to track down the DVDs. Soundtracks by Jim O'Rourke and many other heavies. Goes way beyond the contemporary music video.

Walter Hill - The Warriors - 1979
Near perfect film. Second time seeing this, projected which gave a lot of impact. Living now in New York, the film makes a lot more sense, understanding the geography. What a place New York was in the 1970s - a pipe bomb. Recently watched 48 Hours and David Patrick Kelly shows up in The Warriors as well as there, one of my favorites (introduced to him in Twin Peaks back in the day, then Abel Ferrara's The Funeral). Some great character actors like Michael Beck, James Remar and Paul Greco (funny looking gangster in Broadway Danny Rose) star in this work.  Through the years trains have played a prominent role in this blog, this is one of THE great train films. Abstracted footage of films moving through dark dirty stations, empty train interiors with Dubuffet like textures. Grit and grime. Barry De Vorzon's score is intense and adds many levels of dread unlike the lame scores of recent 80s pastiche works.

S. Craig Zahler - Brawl in Cell Block 99 - 2017
Not normally a fan of Vince Vaughn but this was a pretty good film. A tad gruesome but mild enough for a slightly sensitive viewer. Was not familiar with the director, he does a good job here. Solid photography by Benji Bakshi, film has a bit of a retro feel/look but assumed it took place in modern times. Part of the trend these days, sometimes works, sometimes doesn't.

Paul Schrader - Light Sleeper - 1992
This was one of those films I knew I had seen but could not remember, but remembered instantly as it started. Has an interesting ambiance to it, even though it is not a "great" film, there is something about it that works very well, and the gritty look and feel of NYC adds much to this. Not unlike The Warriors mentioned above, the city could add quite a bit of character to films in those days. Paul Schrader has done some really great work besides Taxi Driver, his Hardcore and Affliction are films this viewer has watched many times and thoroughly enjoyed.  Of course... Willem Dafoe is a big reason one would watch this film. Such a strong strong screen presence, he is a formidable actor. The photography was by the great Edward Lachman who shot Todd Haynes' Carol, Far from Heaven, and Mildred Pierce. Many other heavy works including The Limey.

Sidney Lumet - Serpico - 1973
First saw Serpico in early high school and quickly became an addict to the film's jouissance.  One of the films that started a lifelong interest in sitting and enjoying the light hitting my eyes. Have seen the film numerous times in my life, but the last viewing was some years ago. What does one say about this film except that it is a classic that demands numerous viewings. So many moments that leave deep impressions, also classic lines both serious and comic. For some reason the line spoken by James Tolkan always stood out :
Hold it, Serpico.
What were you two doing?

- What?
- In the shithouse in the dark!
Were you goin' down on him?

-What are you talking about?
-You gonna tell me you were peeping?
You were sucking his cock

Yorgos Lanthimos - Alps - 2011
Wanted to see this film after The Lobster and The Killing of a Sacred Deer. Lanthimos makes some strange works, not quite surreal, more like Walserian (to this viewer). Comical for sure. Sex-ridden... absurd... all good business. Had a little trouble following what the hell was happening but the confusion was indeed nice.

Ric Roman Waugh - Shot Caller - 2017
Second prison film in this list. Both films fit very nicely in the history of prison films. Le Trou and Escape from Alcatraz are films I watched often as a youngster, especially the Eastwood film when I was in middle school. Couldn't get enough of the idea of folks breaking out of a prison and all the steps involved, not unlike a procedural or a caper film.  Other classics would be Cool Hand Luke, Brute Force, A Man Escaped. More contemporary classics that are heavy are The Shawshank Redemption, Hunger, Paddington 2 (I am told, have yet to see), Starred Up. Many more not coming to mind at the moment.

James Gray - Lost City of Z - 2016/17
Having watched Sons of Anarchy a few years ago, it was really gratifying to see that Charlie Hunnam was an actor not without talent. Not that he was bad in that show, but it wasn't really a serious performance (I actually liked the show in a way, despite all its problems). He did a really top notch job in this, as did Robert Pattinson, whom was almost unrecognizable. Pattinson is one hell of an actor!

Craig Gillespie - I, Tonya - 2017
This was a film that I hesitated to see but ended up enjoying for the most part. The ice skating scenes, from a technical point of view (film, not ice skating) are quite impressive and poetic. Compared to sports photography which completely lacks poetry, getting right in there and having the camera move around got the blood up. I am sure it is an hommage, but the similarities of some shots and the general feeling of the film was surely in the Goodfellas tradition. In film school I would watch Goodfellas over and over, mainly because I liked the way the light from the film entered my eyes, but it was also a good crash course on how to read a film, understanding a film from a structural point of view. In I, Tonya we find one shot specifically (but many others similar) where a camera moves slowly toward a character, we hear the characters inner voice (or their idiolect), and not until the camera comes close to the character and he makes eye contact with said camera, does the voice actually come from the lips. Watching this film got me thinking about understanding the language of cinema. A static camera versus a moving camera. Where a camera is in an interior and in relation to the subject(s), what lens is used, understanding the purpose of the sound as being either realistic or purposely artificial (or both). A hard cut versus a dissolve. A viewer that has no comprehension of any of this business has a truly limited understanding of the work. Some of this goes a little beyond the film in a way, it is not nearly as sophisticated as a film like Goodfellas, but it has moments of this kind of gravity. Also, I spent the entire film wondering how the hell the actor was skating like this.... did a professional skater act in this (I could not recall the actresses face), or did she learn it? Someone after the screening said they must have achieved it digitally but that did not seem right. Turns out she learn to skate and they did some of it digitally (the triple axel), someone please correct me if I am wrong.

Jonathan Entwistle & Lucy Tcherniak - The End of the F***ing World - 2017
British throat cutting comedy. Stars Jessica Barden from The Lobster and Alex Lawther.  Not without interest, enjoyed it.

Trey Edward Shults - Krisha - 2015
There is some fancy foot work here in this film with the camera, sound and editing. The film did not really hit me much though, but not without interest for many.

Sunday, February 4, 2018

plato's cave fifty two (being a film journal)

Safdie Brothers - Good Time - 2017
Second time seeing this. These directors are probably some of the hottest potatoes in town right now, the film surely has a great look (shot on 35mm by Sean Price Williams), and Robert Pattinson is quite riveting... it is hard to take ones eyes off him throughout the film. There are some novel moments but for the most part it seems to go with the flow of 2 recent trends (one of which is often times a good one) of paying homage to frenetic 70s cinema, and the trend (which is hard to tolerate) of paying homage to the culture of the 80s. The 80s thing is for the most part unbearable... Stranger Things is the best example of this current craze. It is obvious that the majority of tv and film viewers have no criticism of this, but the writer of this website does in fact. The problem with this 80s homage is most clearly present in the score of this film, which to this listeners ears sounds like a pastiche of Tangerine Dream. Hearing the music makes this viewer uncomfortable, but for reasons beyond its unlistenability, more the concept of it; it is not interesting, it is a synthesis of 80s sounds.... it takes but gives nothing back except cheap thrills. In addition to the conceptual problem of the music (and partly the image), the editing of the music is either lazy or done for a reason that just is lost on this viewer....  it is unrelenting in a non-intellectual manner, one just wants it to mellow the fuck out for one second so the image and performance can have some breath.... A great filmmaker knows when to hold back and when to "unleash", this technique is not present in this film. It would be interesting to have a copy of this film with no sound and actually edit in a TD soundtrack as a replacement, have it there at the right moments... and not there when the film needs to breath. I think of some music by King Crimson, they know when to hold back and when to let the devil in (The Devil's Triangle).

Aki Kaurismäki - Ariel - 1988
Driving a convertible around in the winter, only in a Kaurismaki film. Watched half of this mainly as a palate cleanser for previous. Need to watch the second half. Hell of a film.

Jean-Marc Vallée - Dallas Buyers Club - 2013
Second time seeing this. Not a fantastic film but good for the performances, mainly Mr. McConaughey.

Jeff Nichols - Midnight Special - 2016
Second time with this film. Initially went over my head somewhat, partly was too captivated by the performances and the look of the film I had trouble following the story. Still pretty much the same on second viewing. This guy has made a couple of good films.

Billy Wilder - The Apartment - 1960
Time to watch a serious classic. One of the films a young person watches to learn (and learn to appreciate) the language of cinema. Had been a long time since watching this, and had only seen on a television, it was great to see it projected on a somewhat large screen. The blacks and high contrast in this film are very inspiring to see, in the world of grey we live in. Wilder and cinematographer Joseph LaShelle had some serious balls to push the blacks.

Dan Trachtenberg - 10 Cloverfield Lane - 2016
Second time watching this. Enjoyable film. I liked the ending the most when Mary Elizabeth Winstead leaves the shelter to the craziness of the outside world. Shame the first film Cloverfield is not in line with this quality-wise.
John Landis - Trading Places - 1983 
Good general aesthetic in this film, gritty look (photography by Robert Paynter) and sleazy characters (Don Ameche & Ralph Bellamy), a bit of senseless nudity via Jamie Lee Curtis and some good classic business by Denholm Elliott.

Paul King - Paddington - 2014 
I had a Paddington Bear as a young boy. Very entertaining film. Sally Hawkins is great, as is Nicole Kidman as a sadist. Jim Broadbent with German accent, very nice!

Azazel Jacobs - The Lovers - 2017
My wife and I mainly watched to see more of  Tracy Letts. He is great in the film. Not something I would watch again, didn't hold up and story not engaging enough.

Josh Mond - James White - 2015
Second time watching. Didn't like it much the first time, but more so the second. The rawness and uncomfortability of it make it a good film experience. Christopher Abbott is quite good in the film. Nowhere near perfect but a decent film with many compelling moments for the viewer.

Jim Jarmusch - Paterson - 2016
Second time watching this, review previously here.

Damien Chazelle - Whiplash - 2014
Second time watching this. I would love if this film followed the musical world of Anthony Braxton rather than Wynton Marsalis. A main complaint.  To this viewer's ears the music has no place in the world that we live in. But the kid can drum like a motherfucker. Miles Teller and J.K. Simmons do an outstanding job in this film, and the general visual darkness adds such moodiness and atmosphere that is very rewarding to a sensitive viewer (photography by Sharone Meir). I had forgotten that it was written and directed by Mr. La La Land, that film had some musical problems as well. Perhaps these films are trying to appeal to the masses that really don't have a feeling for music. If they pushed a little harder they would be pretty good films. Trying to think of Chazelle as some kind of genius really makes no sense to me, I wonder what the justifications are for that, here he made a decent film. I think the photography and editing add a lot to the general quality of the work. Without Simmons the film would not exist.

Safdie Brothers - Heaven Knows What - 2014
Again... very bad choice of music from these guys. Lack of sensitivity to what makes a film watchable and what gives a film impact. How is this film different from Jerry Schatzberg's Panic at Needle Park? An updated version with pastiche 1980s music perhaps and millennial editing and washed out photography that adds nothing but a watered down sensibility. Why the hell is it so washed out visually and who likes this sort of thing? Perhaps taking cues from popular art photography from 10 years ago?

Johnnie To - The Mission - 1999
First time seeing this. Great film, needed to cleanse the palate after Heaven film.... Can't wait to see other films by To, his work is superb. Very strange use of music here, a combo of almost kitsch with shoegaze bass lines, like Ride playing a wedding or something. Very interesting!