Wednesday, January 31, 2007

The Spirit of the Beehive

After sitting in my Netflix queue for several weeks next to the words "long wait" I finaly recieved a copy of The Spirit of the Beehive over the weekend. I had heard very good things about the film, but I couldn't have imagined that by the time I had finished watching, that it would have immediately become on a short list of favorite films ever for me. It's intimidating even to write a few paragraphs about a film that moved me so much.

The film takes place shortly after the Spanish Civil War in a small village and focuses primarily on two young sisters Ana and Isabelle. As the film starts we see a truck pulling into the village with kids dancing around the truck singing and shouting "The movie is here, the movie is here." A copy of Frankenstein has been brought to the village and will eb shown in the town hall building that evening. While watching the film Ana is transfixed by a scene where a child gives a flower to Frankenstein and offers to play with him. Of course in the film the child dies, and Frankenstein is put to death. That evening while going to bed Ana asks Isabelle why Frankenstein killed the child and why later Frankenstein was killed. Isabelle responds that none of this happened, because, "everything in movies is fake," and beyond that she has spoken to Frankenstein's spirit who is near the village. So now, and for the remainder of the film, Ana's focus is on finding and making contact with this spirit.

This film affected me on so many levels. The first 45 minutes of the film I had an awful feeling in my chest, coming from what I would guess was a sense of impending doom. The depth of the images and sound in this film brought this forward more than any of the dialogue. I remember reading numerous times of how Antonioni's L'Avventura created a new cinematic language. After watching this I couldn't help but wonder if this was the same language more fully expressed or something entirely different from even that. The film perfectly captures the imagination and wonder of childhood. And it does so in silent pauses, reaction shots, eye contact and smiles between the two children.

That sense of doom that I mentioned though stayed with me througout the entire film. When watching the children watch Frankenstein I couldn't help but wonder how far their imagine and curiousity would take them afterwards, whether it would put them in a dangerous situation. Of course it didn't help that they were children of seemingly very disengaged parents. And as the movie neared it's conclusioon and I felt myself overcome by what I was seeing I had to remind myself of Isabelle's mention earlier in the film, how "everything in movies is fake." But even then, I was unable to fully disengage myself from the film.

I wonder now to myself, when and if I am lucky enough to have children how this film may affect my own parenting. I wonder how it would affect me trying to share my love of film with them.

Monday, January 29, 2007

51 Birch Street

I have a confession to make. Documentaries nearly always leave me cold. I just find myself unable to invest myself in the story. Even supposedly great documentaries like Barbara Kopple's Harlan County, USA just didn't do it for me. Sure, I understood the plight of the mine workers, and I understood what was at stake. But as the DVD was playing I found myself walking to the kitchen, making a sanwich, while only half paying attention to the film and then coming back to it. Even documentaries of my favorite musicians like Pennebaker's Dylan doc, Don't Look Back strike me as more novelty than something that deserves repeated viewings.

Still, I found myself going down to Key Cinema's Sunday afternoon to see 51 Birch Street on the last day of it's run here in Indianapolis. And in the end I found myself completely invested in the story more so than any documentary I have seen in recent years.

Doug Block is a filmaker. He has been filming family get togethers for many years, for posterity's sake. After 54 years of marraige his mother dies. 3 months later Doug's father marries his secratary of many years ago.

As Doug attempts to come to grips with this, he spends time talking to his mother's best friend. Both of his sisters. His father. A hip young Jewish rabbi. A therapist on father son relationships. And most tellingly he spends lots of time leafing through years of his late mothers journals.

There were times where this could have become a bit uncomfortable for the audience. There is something inherently strange about reading through a dead woman's diary as a son is trying to find out exactly how happy his parents marriage was. But, somehow this doesn't cross over that line for the audience, or at least me. Doug's repect for his mother and for his parents marriage always came across louder than any doubts in my head about what exactly I was seeing. Late in the movie Doug asks his mother's best friend if she would have wanted him to see these journals, he also asks a rabbi what the bible says about looking threough his late mothers journals. The rabbi answers, "What does your heart say?"

There was never any question to me that Doug's heart was curious. If there wasn't a video camera near it is still easy to picture him with the same questions and concerns. None of this seemed exhibitionist or that is was exploiting a strange situation.

What leaves me cold so oten in documentaries was the feeling that I was never getting to know the people who were being shot. I would possibly know more about their political cause. Or their on stage persona, but I never felt I could invest in a cause or persona the way i do with a character in fictional films. In that way they just don't seem as human to me, as much of a paradox as that may sound. In 51 Birch Street Doug Block created a very human documentary, and in so doing made a film that I will remember and revisit again in the future.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Recent Reading

The past few days I have spent much more time than I would care too in dentist, physical therapy, and eye doctors lobby's. In those hours though, I have had the choice to either read a copy of Newsweek from early November that someone left in the lobby, or some of the books I have been borrowing from Barnes and Noble recently. The borrowing of hardcovers with a promise to return them in decent shape is definitely one of the perks of working at Barnes and Noble, especially when you are on a budget.

One book that I have just dove into yesterday is Love is a Mix Tape by Rob Sheffield. In this book Rob, a current writer for Rolling Stone among other publications, uses 22 mix tapes to chronicle his time before and with his late wife Renee, as well as his memories of her and deaoling with her unexpected death. Renee died unexpectedly just 5 years into their marraige. In the first entry Rob chronicles a mix tape from March of 1993. Being a rolling stone writer, and being the mid 90's these tapes are filled with some of the breakout alternative acts of the 90's. The first song on the first tape is Shoot the Singer by Pavement. A page before the first chapter is the line from another Pavement song, "I wasted all your precious time, I wasted it all on you" from Texas never Whispers, I think. Leafing through the mix tapes you see tons of Pavement, Morrissey, L7, Sebadoh, Superchunk, Dinosaur Jr. It definitely takes one back to that time in 90's which was the last time I was really excited about music myself.

Granted, I'm only 50 or so pages in, but what is making the book work so far is the sincerity and beauty in the way that Rob remembers their time together. Any aging hipster can write a book about the mix tapes they shared with a loved one from the 90's. And anyone can drop in the cool bands and memories of car rides, and dancing, and long nights together. But, not everyone can make it work. Sheffield's self depreciating humor, obvious love for the music that initially served as he and Renee's bond, and obvious love for Renee makes this more than a self serving book. In the first chapter, "The whole world got cheated out of Renee. I got cheated less, because I got more of her than anybody," and by the end of the chapter, only 15 pages, I already agree. I put down the book and am just staring off into space. He's already painted a picture of Renee that makes me wish that I met her as well. Even if she did hate The Smiths. There will be obvious comparisons to Nick Horby's High Fidelity except, this actually happened.

As if I needed more reason to keep reading Rob also delves into old films from time to time...

The country singers understand. It's always the one song that gets you. You can hide, but the song will find you...

Gangsters understand too. In the old Gangster movies you're always running away to a new town, somewhere they won't know your mugshot. You can bury the dirty deeds of your past. Except the song follows you. In detour, it's "I Can't Believe You're in Love with Me." The killer hears it on a truck stop jukebox, and he realizes there is no escape from the girl. In Gilda, it's "Put the Blame on Mame." In Dark Passage, "Too Marvelous for Words." Barbara Stanwyck in Clash by Night, she's so cool tough and unflappable, until she goes to a bar and get's jumped by a song on the jukebox, "I Hear a Rhapsody." She starts to ramble about a husband who died, and a small town where she used to sell sheet music. She's not so tough now. You can't get away from the meanest jukebox in town.

Um, Yes. Yes. Yes. It's all true. As I said I am only about 50 pages in, but so far it's a damn good read, and touching at that. I'd imagine I'd be through this one by the time the weekend is out. That is if upcoming chapters don't have me staring into space too long, heartsick, as the first chapter did.

Also, much to my delight, Paul Auster had a new book released this past week. I devor Paul Auster's novels like lunch at an all you can eat Indian buffet. I love the guy. I find him to have one of the most unique voices that I have read. The way that he weaves a story within a story has pushed some of my friends away from his novels, or to feel they have already seen the trick and stop after one or two. It's part of what keeps me coming back. That and how many times Auster's works are extremely dark, but in that darkness and the lonliness he puts some of his characters through, there is a beauty and somehow an optimism about humanity below it all. His work as a screenwriter on the other hand in films such as Smoke while not entirely terrible, pales in comparison for me, to his novels.

Travels in the Scriptorium is only 152 pages. So it wasn't really any suprise to me that I finished it in only two sittings. I would have likely finished it in one, but I thought to myself, "I want something to look forward to tomorrow at lunch." So I saved the remaining 50 pages for then.

Travels reads more like a novella or short story than some of Auster's other work. And after his last novel The Brooklyn Follies, this seemed very dark in comparison. A man is in a room, he doesn't know where or why. He is only referred to as Mr. Blank. And as he is trying to piece together his memory and find out why he is there, he finds a manuscript at a desk, which seems to be written for him to help him, or maybe to harm him, to drive him even more crazy.

Though in the end the story does work for me, this is far from my favorite Auster. That would be the excellent Book of Illusions. But, this is a quick read and an enjoyable one at that. It's a bit dark, and at times even bleak. And while I found the ending to be typically fantastic as is usually the case for Auster, I am unsure still what to exactly make of it. It is unsettling in a way that some of his other books aren't.

This may not be the best introduction to Auster for some of the reasons I mentioned above. But, readers of Auster's other works will find some special joy in this as numerous characters from his previous works show up in one form or another. At the very least, this will at least tide me over until his next book comes out.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Three Times

It suprised me to find out after watching Three Times that director Hsiao-hsien Hou has directed over 10 films. He is a director that was completely below my radar and I only recently heard of three times even though it was technically a 2005 release. This is one of many reasons I someday soon hope to purchase a region-free dvd player.

Three Times tells a story of love at three different times in China. The same actor an actress play the lovers in a three seperate stories set in 1911, 1966, and 2005. Unlike The Fountain which used the same actors for three different love stories through time as well, in Three Times the lovers are three distinctly different couples. Hou uses three different stories to show the difficulty of love, or how one can be so close to love and yet not fully embrace it.

The first of the three stories is titled A Time for Love. It is 1966 and a young woman is working at a pool hall where she meets a soldier who is being sent away for duty. When he returns from duty to find her he finds she is no longer working at that pool hall and travels different towns in search of finding her.

The second, A Time for Freedom is set in 1911. Here, a political activist or writer visits a prostitute or geisha. She has clearly fallen for him, and there is a unique closeness between the too. His travels and her hesitancy to make her feelings known keeps love at arms length.

Finally, in the third A Time for Youth, it's 2005. A woman pop singer is loved by her girlfriend but finds herself, at least at times more drawn to a male photographer who is pursuing her.

A common link in all of these three stories seems to be the emotional distance between lovers. And more often than not this distance is brought on by the lovers themselves. In that way it reminds me of some of the films of Wong Kar-Wai. But, unlike most of those films, the action here is hardly kinetic. In each of the three stories any action that is to be had unfolds extremely slowly. In the first story, our first moments of dialogue aren't until 5 minutes in. The second story, set in 1911, is told in the style of a silent film. In the thrird we also have many more moments of the lovers walking sround room to room, or in the streets silently than we have dialogue.

There are moments throughout these three stories though that a song moves the action along. In each of these three stories music plays a key role, and might have been best used in the first story, A Time for Love where "Smoke gets in your Eyes by The Platters is a recurring theme.

Truth told, I put in Three Times two nights ago and watched about twenty minutes of it before realizing that I wouldn't be able to devote it the attention it deserves. Their is an intricate attention to detail in nearly every shot. The shots in various pool rooms are more beautiful than I imagined pool rooms ever being. The pacing of the film allows shots like those and the greyness of the city in A Time for Youth to just wash over you. The film requires an extremely patient viewer, but if viewed patiently Three Times is surely worth the time.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

IIFF Update

Yesterday good news came into the email inbox from the Indianapolis International Film Festival. yes, we are still 3 months away from the festival, but the submission dealine passed and the festival has recieved a record 526 films from 56 nations. An increase of over 70% from last year.

From the email:

In addition, three former Oscar nominees submitted films along with a Camera d'Or winner from the Cannes Film Festival. We also received more than a dozen films selected for Sundance, and a multitude of films that showed at Berlin, Toronto, and Locarno.

And here is a PDF of a press release.

It's looking more and more likely that I will be purchasing the Passport for this years festival. I am very much looking forward to it.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Gun Crazy

The Warner Classics Film Noir box sets may have been some of the best gifts I have ever recieved. Granted, I have only gotten through 5 of the 10 films contained in these box sets since Christmas, while watching a ton of other stuff, but each film has been an absolute joy to watch. The last one I watched was Joseph A. Lewis's Gun Crazy.

Truth told the beginning Gun Crazy starts off a bit slow for me. While other great noirs like Out of the Pastslipped right into the action or some snappy dialogue, Gun Crazy finds a young Bart in the court room after stealing a gun. After some akward moments of moralizing and preachiness the movie takes off though.

Bart comes back to town after being sent away to a correctional school and the army and meets up with some friends. They go to the state fair and there is where we meet one of the great femme fatales, Annie Laurie Starr (Peggy Cummings). She is a sharp shooter for the carnival and makes some good money when she takes challengers from the audience and challenges them for money. But, Bart (John Dall) is at the very least her equal and as the conduct their challenge in a very flirtatious way the trouble has just begun.

Of course Bart is gonna fall for her, and of course she is gonna use Bart for her ends. This leads to several robberies and a life on the run as notorious criminals. In between the robberies Bart attempts to come to grips and wants to lead a straight life, but he is always roped back in, by love or just by the power of Annie's personality. At one point in the commentary by film scholar Glenn Erickson, also included on the DVD disc we hear "If there is any doubt she's the villain it is erased here. She is willing to use the baby as a shield. That is wring no matter how you feel about the law, or crazy young lovers." She is the femme fatale and she is the one in control for most of the film.

The film goes almost like a Bonnie and Clyde, but of course it was made before, and in my mind at least is far better. It's stylized as hell, as well. The past year much has been mad eof teh celebrated "long takes" in Children of Men and The Death of Mr. Lazarascu. In Gun Crazy we have an entire bank heist and getaway filmed in one take from the vantage point of a backseat passanger, and it works brilliantly.

I mentioned the commentary already, but if one is to watch this DVD definitely watch it with the commentary as well afterwards. It's one of the better commentary tracks I have heard and is full of facts about more than just Gun Crazy, but noir and crime films in general. It increased my appreciation of what I already thought was a classic film.

A Screening Log

Because I have seen this done elsewhere, and mainly for selfish reasons, I am gonna link a screening log to my sidebar. I want to have one place where I can look at all the movies that i have watched in 2007. I write capsule revies for probably close to 75% of them, but still, I feel that I should have one quick reference click. All movies I watched will be in the comment field. Obviously, as always, feel free to leave comments on any of the films.

Monday, January 22, 2007

The World

After reading Jonathan Rosenbaum's review and seeing it at the top of his best of list in 2005, I decided check out Zhang Ke Jia's film, The World. While I am not entirely sure it was a total masterpiece The World is definitely one of the more intersting films I have seen recently.

The setting is The World theme park in Bejing. This theme recreates some of the worlds greatest attractions from 5 of the seven continents. You have the Eiffel Tower (at 1/3 it's actual size, complete with elevator, the Taj Mahal, downtown Manhattan complete with Twin Towers and many other world famous landmarks. "Why leave Bejing, when you can see "The World?" The story focuses on the workers at this themepark who also live there, mainly on two young young lovers Tao and Taisheng.

Barely any of the action in this film takes place outside of the themepark. We see a lot of coversations in the cramped dressing quarters where the dancers at the park perpare for shows. Plenty of time is spent on a tram that takes workers and visitors from Paris, to India, to London. For Tao at least her whole World is inside this themepark. At one point she begs Taisheng not to cheat on her, because he is all she has.

The extravagent re-created settings of London, Paris and New York in the background provide a stark contrast to the day to day existence of the poor museum workers. When a plane flies overhead at one point Tao says she never has known anyone who has flown on a real plane. Her entire world truly is only her immediate surroundings. At times the film shifts to animation, usually brought on by a text message to a cell phone having something to do with love or heartbreak. The animation sequences are like dreams and show the characters flying or gallpoing on a horse. As if love is the only dream that can take them away from their immediate surroundings. For some these animation sequences may serve as distraction, to me they only enhanced the story.

The film is nearly 2 1/2 hours but really did not seem overly long, perhaps in part to a shockingly abrupt ending. It's easy to get drawn into the lives of the characters, specifically the love story. And it is safe to say that the setting of the theme park did provide for some shots that will stick in my memory long after viewing the film. Beyond that the film has one of the better scores that I can remember. This was Zhang Ke Jia's first "big budget" picture, and in my mind it succeeded on many levels. It's definitely a film worth checking out, and for me it leaves me wanting to see some of his earlier smaller budget films.

Welcome Back

Word on the street, or should I say rumor has it, that Joel is raising Eccentric Southern Gentleman from the dead after a long personal hiatus. I've left the link on my side bar hoping that he would have the time and energy to bring it back as it was a daily read of mine for a long time. For the college football fans amongst us also check out Roll Bama Roll, Joel's page about all things Alabama Crimson Tide sports.

Of course, he knows that I am posting this in hopes off adding extra pressure for ESG to be back on a regular basis. You don't mind though, do ya bro?

Welcome Back.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Saturday's Links and Random Thoughts

I haven't written anything in reaction to the Eagles loss to the Saints last weekend. It was one of those games that was just so frustrating to watch. In the end I knew that the Eagles would lose, somehow. But the fact they had it close for so long and really could have, and maybe should have, won the game is what's so disheartning about the whole thing. And then, just when I feel like I want to watch some football again, In Bill Simmons article on I am reminded of this....

• I can't believe nobody mentioned the Saints were called for only three penalties last weekend. The conspiracy theory that the NFL wants the Saints to be in Miami for Super Bowl XLI -- starting with the NFL's forcing Houston to take Williams over Bush, forcing the Dolphins to sign Culpepper over Brees and forcing 31 other teams to repeatedly pass on Marques Colston -- just keeps getting stronger and stronger. Now it's just "completely asinine" instead of "criminally far-fetched and absurd."

You know what. Screw the Saints. Go Bears.

Let's start with two links from the always outstanding The House Next Door.

First, I watched Double Indemnity a few weeks back, and of course loved it. There's little not to love about that noir. And Barbara Stanwyck is near the top of the list of what to love about the film. She's a perfect femme fatale. Over at The House Next Door you will find a fiver of her more memorable performances. An excerpt, Stanwyck played roles where you had to believe that no man, even the most devout, upstanding citizen, could resist doing her bidding. She had to be smart enough to get you to surrender body and soul. Once you slept with Monroe, you could carve that notch into your bedpost and move on; Stanwyck was a mindfuck that stayed with you long after the post-coital cigarette. Indeed.

Also, since I just saw Volver, I was happy to read Ryland Walker Knight's review of a film that for some reason is still sticking with me days afterwards.

There is more excellent writing on David Bordwell's site as well. This time a plea to be shot-concious with many excellent screen grabs to illustrate his points.

At Quiet Bubble, a call for a Kieslowski blog-a-thon which should be fantastic reading come March.

Other interesting blog-a-thon's coming up, A contrarian blog-a-thon at Jim Emerson's Scanners February 16-18. And just in time for Valentine's Day, Lovesick blog-a-thon at 100 films

One final late afternoon edit...

Over at Greencine Sara Scheiron interviews Mark Becker. Becker is the director of the documentary, Romantico. Romantico will be playing at Key Cinemas staring February 2, and that interview definitely makes it look like something worth seeing.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Thank you to INtake

Late Wednesday I got a call from a friend who yelled, "What are we not friends anymore?" I was confused, and then she alerted me that the new issue of INtake was around Broad Ripple and she saw my picture in it and was offended I didn't tell her earlier that would happen. For those who are concerned we have mended our friendship and even watched an episode of the OC together last night. And we even briefly debated whether Jim and Pam from The Office is really true love.

Enough of that. Thanks to Matt Gonzales and Michelle at INtake. Thanks also to Key Cinemas for opening a bit early and letting us photograph there. For those who haven't seen the story, you can find it here. Matt gives a breakdown of many of Indianapolis's better blogs. Please check it out and visit some of the blogs too. There is some very good stuff there. And, truthfully, at the risk of sounding sappy, I feel lucky to be lumped in with them.

And if you are visiting here after reading that article, thanks for stopping by. There is a lot of ramblings on film all through here, and I have labeled some of my sports posts too, which are mostly me moaning about the sad state of my Philadelphia teams or US Soccer. Maybe you'll find something you like.


Those who have seen any of Pedro Almodovar's films before would likely know what to expect heading into Volver. Yet as in any Almodovar mellodrama (and lets face it, he does mellodrama better than anyone) all expectations might as well be thrown out the window. In the end Almodovar winds up spinning a story, and gettting better performances out of his actors than could have been imagined. And 100 minutes later I am leaving the theater more touched by the film and story that I anticipated being when I walked in.

To even attempt summarize the plot of Volver is a daunting task. There is Ramiunda, her sister Sole, and Ramiunda's teenage daughter, Paula. These three are close and the bonds of family are explored in depth throughout the movie. There closeness is tried, or pushed closer by the death of their Aunt Paula, a murder of Ramiunda's lover and Paula (not Aunt Paula's) father Paco. Then there is the appearance of Ramiunda and Sole's mother Irene, who is believed to be dead from dying in her husbands arms in a fire. As far as an Almodovar plot goes, none of this seems to out of the ordinary.

Penelope Cruz plays Ramiunda and gives a better performance than I have ever seen her give. Though, it's safe to say she wasn't exactly an actress that had me running towards the ticket counters before but here she was just superb. The rest of the cast is superb as well, especially Carmen Maura, who plays Irene.

In many reviews I have read since last night it is pointed out how all the men in this film are painted as scoundrels, sexual predators, or cheaters. Looking back over the film that is a true and fair assesment. However, while watching the film was so caught up in the story, and so tuned into the lives of these women, I didn't see it as a sweeping generalization of all men. Sure, Paco was a heartless deadbeat. And what we here of Irene's husband, Ramiunda and Sole's father, is not life affirming, to say the least. But, throughout the movie all that paled in comparison to the relationships of these women.

It would be too easy though, to characterize Volver as a chick flick. Elements of dark humor go on throughout the story. And, Almodovar pounds us over the head with one revelatiion or plot twist after another making the film seem to never lose pace. Each of these twists cranks up teh mellodrama one more notch, but at no time does this seem forced or contrived in the way that most chick flicks are characterized as.

Volver, I am told, roughly translates as "to return." The overaching themes of forgiveness, living with the dead, and most of all love of family all require at the least a look back and more likely a return. While, at least for me, this didn't pack the emotional weight and the "wow" factor of my favorite Almodovar film, Talk to Her, it is still one of my favorites of his. And in the end, one that I want to experience again, very soon.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

David Denby @ the New Yorker

Two weeks ago in The New Yorker David Denby had a fantastic piece on the future of film and the future of Hollywood. He touched just about every base possible. We're talking Holywood studios gearing up for opening weekends and how that affects what films we see. We are talking about possibly seeing films being distributed digitally and how that will save money. He mentions the demographics of Hollywood target audiences, for the most part 12-25 year olds, which explains a lot of the Crap in theaters right now. And he discusses viewing films on iPods, portable players and the like as opposed to the communal experience of seeing them in a theater. It's a great article, and if you have twenty minutes to kill, it's still on line and can be read here. A few other people have already weighed in on the article including, J.R. Jones, at the Chicago reader here.

I reread the article last night and my goodness, there is so much to react to that 20 page essays could be written in response. Denby starts out the article though talking about viewing a movie on an iPod...

“Pirates” has lots of wide vistas and noisy tumult—a vast ocean under the dazzling sun and nighttime roughhousing in colonial towns, with deep-cleavaged prostitutes and toothless drunks. What I saw, mainly, was a looming ship the size of a twig, patches of sparkling blue, and a face or a skull flashing by. The interiors were as dark as caves. My ears, fed by headphones, were filled with such details as the chafing of hawsers and feet stomping on straw, but there below me Johnny Depp and Orlando Bloom were duelling like two angry mosquitoes in a jar.

Denby goes on to say how in the theater, "you submit to a screen; you want to be mastered by it, not struggle to get cozy with it." And later goes on to talk about a bit the communal experience of movie going as opposed to viewing at home or on these smaller devices like iPods.

This generation is bombarded with choice. Between Netflix, downloadable movies online, and 65 movie channels we have so many opportunities to see films in places other than the theater that it's gotta be unprecedented. And while, at times in Denby's article this seems to be a reason for a death march for Hollywood I am not sure that is entirely the case. Now, sure, would I have wanted my first viewing of a current favorite, Jean-Luc Godard's Contempt to be in a theater? Absolutely. However, being as there is no revival theater in Indianapolis, this was not the possible. And how many great prints of Contempt work there way around the United States each year. I would guess less than a handful, though I admittedly have not done the research. But without the abundance of choices, including Netflix, Turner Classic Movies and others I would simply not have seen nearly any of the movies that I found so moving in the past year.

This does not neccessarily spell death and doom for theaters. These other avenues of seeing classics and newer movies can drive a person back to the theaters. For me, it wasn't till recently that I had a love for films rekindled. And if i had to pinpoint when that happened I would say it was probably exactly at the madison scene in Band of Outsiders, which almost as if to illustrate one of Denby's points, can be scene online here. It was after this, that I started devouring as many films from the French New Wave as possible. And then introducing myself to some by Jean-Pierre Melville. And when Army of Shadows a film of Melville's from the 1960's finally saw US release, I made sure to see it when it came to Key Cinemas on the south side. And it turned out to be one of the best filmgoing experiences I have ever had. And it's something that may have just passed under my radar were it not for seeing Bob Le Flambeur a month or so prior, in my own home, on my own only 20 inch tv.

Now, granted most of the films I have mentioned have been foreign, and not the Hollywood that Denby talks of in his article. However, still these drove me back to theaters in general where just this year I have already went to see, Children of Men, Old Joy, and Sweet Land. Towards the end of last year I was blown away by both The Fountain and Marie Antoinette. With any luck, I hope to see Volver today.

Thing is, when you see a great film in the theater, even when going alone it can be a communal experience. I remember a few years back going to see a documentary called Sound and Fury also at Key Cinemas. It was a movie documentary about some in the deaf community and the struggle some have in deciding weather otr not to get cochlear implants. I went to see it myself, but while walking out of the theater, I paused and watched two deaf people in what looked to my eye to be an animated conversation in sign language about the film, and I will never forget that. And if it's not something like that, it's the conversation that I have with a friend while leaving the theater or that I overhear while leaving teh theater yourself that gives me that sense of communal viewing while leaving a theater.

And thats why for as much shit as Hollywood seems to put out, it may be in transition as Denby states, but, it will survive. I mean even Denby himself stated, "And there never was a golden age in which art or great entertainment poured unremittingly from the studio gates. The majority of movies at any time are junk. From 1953, we remember “From Here to Eternity” and “The Band Wagon” and maybe “The Big Heat,” but not “The Redhead from Wyoming” or “Guerrilla Girl.” For most people, memory itself is a kind of revival house in which only the most vivid things survive." It's just a matter of finding the right films, and thankfully some are still being made. It's never as bad as it seems.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Old Joy

If there were a place for men to be boys again, one could hope that it would be in the woods. It should be that easy. One could think back to games played together in the woods as a child, or the feeling of mischief and accomplishment when making their first fire. Regardless, nature sometimes can serve at the least for an escape from what is told to us as, or what we qualify, as the real world. But, sometimes as life goes on and as men grow to be older, even in surroundings we see meant to set us free from ourselves, it is difficult to get away from the weights of our own lives.

In Kelly Reichardt's film, Old Joy we meet Kurt and Mark. Mark (Daniel London) recieves a phone call from Kurt (Will Oldham), asking him if he wants to take an overnight trip into the woods and check out these hot springs. It's on short notice, but after running it by his wife Mark makes the decision to go. He mentions how he could use some time in the woods. After Mark drives down through town to the soundtrack of Air America talk radio and we finally meet Kurt we gather Kurt is single, and perhaps in a less professional place than Mark. They decide on taking Mark's car, and next Mark, Kurt, and Mark's dog Lucy head on out for their overnight road trip.

In the following hour of the film we learn as much about the story by what is not said, as we do by the actual dialogue. We learn about these characters in the way they pack up a sleeping bag, or enter and exit a car. The dialogue is sparse throghout. The director Reichardt gives us as many scenes looking through the windshield of a car out at the forest as he does with us focused on the characters and their conversation. When we are witnessing Mark and Kurt interact, their unspoken reactions to eachothers comments ring as true as anything spoken. Daniel London especially, it seems, is required to reveal a lot with his eyes. And at once you can see his love and his friend Kurt, and the sadness of a friendship that has grown somewhat apart. When Kurt at one point after getting a little high breaks down for a moment, wishing thier friendship was what it's the unspoken reaction in Kurt's facial expression that sticks with us much longer than the words. And when we see Kurt playing with Mark's dog, or the dog following them with a stick to big for her to carry, it brings a smile to our face as it gives the impression of a closeness taht doesn't need dialogue (even if it is only the impression).

As Kurt and Mark walk through the woods, my empathy switched from one to the other numerous times. As a friend said after leaving the theater, I have been both at some point in my life. It's the one trying to settle down into a serious relationship or family life while still feeling the tug of (nearly?) carefree male adolescence. Or, is it the one where that carefree male adolescence was held on to for too long, and as life moves on I feel a little bit left behind.

With the continual shots of nature Reichardt at once creates a feeling of lonliness and hopefullness. And when Mark and Kurt finally make it to the hot springs it's one of the more lovingly shot scenes of friendship that I can remember. Yet again, I can imagine that it depends on where the viewer is, what they will take away from the film. It's not a film with an gratuitous climax or payoff. Instead, it's one that requires a certain patience and submission from the viewer to follow along with the story. And, for me, as I allowed myself to reflect on the story, it's one of the more beautifully told films of the past year.

Old Joy is playing through next Thursday at Key Cinemas.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

The Best Years of Our Lives

After watching The Best Years of Our Lives I found it a bit humorous to see it mentioned in another films review in this way, "My generation will forever be identified with the American Pie franchise, something that makes me continuously ashamed. Where other generations can pride themselves on The Best Years of Our Lives or Easy Rider, Wall Street or Goodfellas, we have a seemingly endless multi-million-dollar series that protracts the decades-long stereotype of apathetic, over-sexed teens." While I don't think it's neccessarily that bad, I hope that our generation has a better touchstone film than American Pie, I can't help but think of how great it would be to have The Best Years of Our Lives as the film to identify a generation with.

William Wyler directed The Best Years of Our Lives in 1946, it is a homecoming film about three World War II veterans. They return to small town America, namely Boone City, and find out that in the time they were gone certain tings have changed that they can't change back. Al's children have grown up to the point where he claims he doesn't recognize them. Fred's wife has moved out of his parents house and may have fallen out of love with him. And then, there is Homer (played by real life war veteran Harold Russell) who has lost his hands in the war, and now goes home to a family and a girlfriend who want only to care for him, even as he wants only to be treated normal. These three veterans meet on their plane trip home to Boone City and share a cab ride while dropping eachother off at their houses. They forge an immediate bond as veterans from the same town and make plans to meet for drinks soon.

The hardship of adjustment comes nearly instantly. Homer doesn't know how or want to hold his girl with his new hands. Al struggles to initially connect with his wife, and is pressured back into work immediately. The best job Fred can find is back at a drugstore working under a guy he used to supervise, oh and he and his wife can't stand eachother. There are struggles at work, talks of divorce and homewrecking, an underlying sentiment that some people don't get the risks the veterans took for their country, yet somehow this remains one of the least cynical films I have ever seen.

The talks of divorce had to be a bit controversial in 1946. And, one would imagine so would have putting so plainly teh struggles of the veterans to get respect at home. Not to mention having a real life war amputee in a lead role. But beyond all this is a true American poulist film that just could not be made in 2007. In on scene a man at a soda fountain tells a veteran he was a sucker for fighting the war, that we fought the wrong people, that all the facts are in the paper and all he has to do is read the facts. The veteran was taken back by this. This is in 1946. Such a scene in 2007 would seem absurd. In our media oversaturated culture everyone already knows there are millions with dissenting viewpoints to every view out there.

The film lasts three hours, and in the end you wind up believing and knowing that something good will happen for these characters and it does. The predictability of the plot does not even for an instant take away from the enjoyment of following these characters and wishing for that good you know that will come. It's hard to imagine that this generation will be identified with a film that matches this in stature.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Saturday's Lunchtime Links

The past few days have been too full of martinis and gin and tonics to get any movie watching in. Oh, and that MLS SuperDraft. About 75-80 Crew fans showed up, suprisingly outnumbering Chicago's supporters on the day. And, then the Crew shocks us all by trading the number two pick for a player to be named later, effectively taking the air out of the group. Soon enough though, we found the player was Andy Herron from Chicago Fire, which brought some life back to the group. The Dispatch has a good rundown of draft day action, and Sigi's reaction. MLS season can't start soon enough. April 7 for those keeping track at home.

So after two days of drinking and chanting Crew songs in the middle of Indianapolis in January, I spent most of last night running through various blogs, etc.

Jim Emerson's Scanners has been in the in the midst of "Contrarian Week, almost all week. Plenty of good reading to be done there and some especially good conversation brought on by a Cinema-Scope article questioning, "Do We Really Need Scorcese?" Jim's take is here

David Bordwell has an excellent essay on Walt Disney.

Wong Kar-Wai films always get me. I'd been unable to figure out why. They just creep up on me. And as I find myself looking back on them days after seeing them I find myself thinking even more fondly of them than I did while initially viewing them. Possibly the best review or reaction I have read of 2046 is over at not coming. The final paragraph, especially...

I suppose this scenario fits the third category of romance, that is, the great obstacle to love. Here’s a film where the obstacles are the lovers themselves. They want to be together yet, unconsciously, tragically, they want more to have their lover break their hearts thereby completing the cycle of heartbreak which began with a former lover some time in the past.

Oh yeah, that's what hit me so damn hard about that film.

One more, at Unspoken Cinema is a blogathon on Contemplative Cinema, going on through the end of January. Contemplative Cinema meaning: the kind that rejects conventional narration to develop almost essentially through minimalistic visual language and atmosphere, without the help of music, dialogue, melodrama, action-montage, and star system. And there are already more than enough essays there to keep me busy throughout the weekend.

Finally, both Volver and Old Joy finally hit Indy this weekend. And with any luck I will see both next week, Tuesday and Thursday, hopefully.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Le Samourai

There are more than a few French films from the 1960's that made me wish to be the lead character, Bob Le Flambeur, Breathless, or virtually any guy staring alongside Anna Karina in a Godard film. But few chatracters and few films just oozed the icy cool that Alain Delon does as Jef Costelo in the 1967 Jean-Pierre Melville film Le Samourai.

The film starts out with a long shot on a dark room. On the screen we see a quote about how nobody lifes the life of a loner like the samourai except, perhaps the tiger in the jungle. As the camera stays still on the room we notice that Jef is on the bed lying on his back smoking a ciggerrette. Smoke spirals up towards the ceiling, the room is all different shades of grey, black, and white, all hues that will stay as primary colors in this movie even though it was filmed in color.

Jef is a hitman, or a contract killer. The job we follow him to requires him to kill a nightclub owner. The scenes in the nightclub follow the idea that we have of Paris in the 1960's from some other films. It just looks hip as hell. Well dressed patrons and there is some live jazz being played. Jef tries to gow around unnoticed and though at one point is caught in the bathroom and he pretends to wash his hands while leaving his gloves on, a small slice of humor that Melville gives us. After he commits the murder though Jef is seen leaving the room of the crime and is seen suspiciously leaving the nightclub at an akward pace.

The nightclub owner was clearly an important man because the Paris police decide to bring in 200 suspects for the murder, all matching the description of a young man in a raincoat and a hat. Jef is one of those men brought in, and though he has constructed an airtight alibi the remainder of the movie is a cat and mouse game between him and the cops as they try to break his alibi.

Le Samourai is clearly an homage to American gangster and Film Noir pics of the 40's, 50's, and early 60's. From the raincoats/trenchcoats that many characters wear, to the jazz singer serving almost as a femme fatale, to Melville's use of the black, white, and grey color scheme, to the fact that you can't shake the feeling that somehow Jef is gonna have his ass kicked by fate.

A friend who has seen a lot more Melville films than myself commented that this film was part of an ongoing experiment by Melville to recreate the black and white film in color. If that was indeed, the experiment it should be noted that he suceeded here. The city always looks grey, the raincoats, hats, the apartments, all grey, black and white (with the exception of the woman who loves Jef). Even the black jazz singer whore a white dress. And it all looks fantastic.

But most of all the movie belongs to Alain Delon. He plays the role so perfectly. Any emotion he shows through is just quick and subtle, through his eyes, which show that he is just a kid, and he is definitely on his own. For long portions of the movie he doesn't even speak but instead we are forced to gather his emotions and thoughts through his eyes, or even his walk. There's a reason why the sleeve calls it a "career defining performance."

After watching Le Samourai I immediately wanted to by a raincoat, a hat...and a gun. But since that seemed unfeasable after midnight, I just settled for starting it over from the beginning.

Update: Beckham to MLS - Official

It's on the front page of CNN. It's made the front page of ESPN. Hell it even made the front page of Drudge Report. Look's like Becks and Posh stole the thunder from Bush's Iraq speech last night.

Sources are now saying the deal is worth 5 years and 250 Million Dollars. If that seems absurd to you for a league that averages about 15k fans a game and has next to no tv revenue, you are not alone. I gotta believe the playing salary is somewhere between 10-15 million and the remaining 35 million dollars a year will be through sponsorships closely tied with MLS. Such as Addidas perhaps. Adidas already is the official uniform supplier for all MLS teams. And though Nike has the national team jerseys lined up, you gotta imagine that Adidas will be bringing Becks into your living room quite a bit this summer. I mean the salary cap for MLS teams is around 2.5 million. Per Team!!!! So Beck's has gotta be getting tons of sponsorship money which is what is being reported as the actual deal.

If that is the case this is still a great deal for MLS. The initial publicity already this morning is absolutely mega. It's now up to MLS to somehow sustain this. There lies the larger challenge.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Beckham, McBride, and MLS

The MLS rumor mill is in full swing this morning. It is just days before the SuperDraft (yes, it's really called that) held here in of all places Indianapolis (more on that later). And now, apparently Fox and Friends reports that David Beckham is set to sign for the Los Angeles Galaxy in the near future. Soccernet is reporting that David beckham is on his way out at Real Madrid, but thats been known for some time. And it's been known for some time that MLS desperately wants him. In fact the designated player rule that MLS has put into place this offseason which allows teams to go over the salary cap is known far and wide as the Beckham Rule. So, with this Beckham Rule, who do my Columbus Crew propose to bring in? Brian McBride.

Let's talk Beckham first. Unconfirmed reports are that MLS will pay Beckham 36 million over 4 years. I am entirely on board with this. I understand many the arguments against this. MLS should be spending this money on player development. Doesn't MLS understand that these kind of contracts are exactly what sunk the last great professional soccer league in this country. Beckham will just be old here and collecting a paycheck and not give his all. I'll adress those one by one.

First, this 36 million to Beckham can go to player development, but what the hell does that actually mean? How would that be spent? A common argument is that MLS should have given higher dollar amounts to kids like Lee Ngyuen and Michael Bradley, or give dollars to Gooch Onweyu to return to MLS. Maybe, but look at the money MLS gave Eddie Johnson after a string of good World Cup qualifiers against never has beens. When you bring in a Beckham to this league it gives it intanst credibility and star power. Now you may have collegiate players deciding to stay and play in MLS with the added media attention it will recieve as well as the opportunity of playing alongside a legend. This is, in an extremely roundabout way an investment in player development. And yes, he still is a legend. The guy can still play. 36 million is not gonna sink this league. With the actual revenue coming into the league now through stadiums and what is still an absurdly small salary cap the league will not go boom under the weight of one contract. Finally, if Beckham were to decide to play in America, this is purely an ego move. Let's face it, the guy can still play for any number of teams playing in high levels of European competetion. But what does Beckham have to gain by playing for West Ham or Blackburn? What can he prove taht he hasn't already proven? But coming to America, and making soccer an actual topic of conversation, and more than a niche sport? That would be an accomplishment, and to just think of it takes an enormous ego. So come on over here Beckham, I'll purchase tickets for your first visit to Columbus and look forward to seeing you lose.

Speaking of Columbus, the Columbus Dispatch reports the Crew are looking a less than creative use of their designated player spot by eyeing Brian McBride. Once again I am completely for this move. Brian McBride was the face of the Crew for much of MLS's first decade. He is the greatest striker this country has produced. And he is showing at Fulham in the English Premier League that he can still play by leading the team in goals. If Columbus were to land McBride there would be moans that Columbus isn't looking towards the future that McBride is too old, and numerous other knee jerk reactions. Consider though, McBride has retired from international play and from all indications is on top of his game at Fulham. So, McBride would miss no more games for World Cup Qualifiers and would instantly give the Crew a scoring threat that they lacked last year. Instantly Brian McBride makes the Crew a better team, and his work ethic again serves as an example to the younger strikers on the team and brings their development forward. McBride won't get near Beckham money, but again, it's an investment in player development to bring in McBride to lead by example for the younger players. I would be thrilled if this would happen.

Finally, the MLS SuperDraft is Friday here in Indianapolis at the Convention Center. Yes, it's true that Indianapolis has no MLS team, but we do host conventions! And since the SuperDraft is held in conjunction with the NSCAA Convention and we hold that we get the SuperDraft as well. Awesome. I for one will be there with a sizeable number of Crew fans who will have made the trip out from Columbus. One would imagine Chicago will have a fair share of fans show up as well. As far as I know admission is free. And no, I don't know much at all about any players or prospects the Crew or any other team hopes to draft, but I look forward to making a day of it anyway and supporting my dearly beloved Columbus Crew. Perhaps I will see some of ya out there. Jim? Mike?

That's enough soccer for now, I guess.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

The Death of Mr. Lazarescu

Sometimes I am unsure exactly how films are marketed the way they are. I wind up questioning the marketing of the film, wondering why they chose to market it as such. And then I wind up questioning myself too, wondering if there was something I just missed along the way. The Death of Mr. Lazarescu was just one of those films for me, and I am still wrestling with it.

First, it should be noted that while I particularly did not enjoy this film, it has been on countless year end top ten lists and is praised by nearly everyone. The film runs at just under two and a half hours and teh enitire time focuses on the travels of Dante Remus Lazarescu in hopes of getting care in a hospital for ailments ranging from pain in his temples, to a sore stomach, to constant vomiting. This normally would not be the kind of movie to sit down with a bucket of popcorn to watch, but all over the dvd box there was mentions of dark comedy and how this was done with a "devil's sense of humor." So that is more or less what I went into the movie expecting.

Outside of the first 15 minutes, I don't think I laughed once, and it's not that I expect belly laughs. I can live with and do appreciate subtle humor. I just didn't find much humor, subtle or otherwise in the film. And while the performances in the film were convincing, it just was a chore to watch, and that was the bigger problem. Cristi Puiu directed this using a series of long takes with a hand held camera. Though that sounded interesting to me at the start, there was nearly no time where the camera was still. It was almost moving or at least shaking the entire time. This did give the film a feeling of immediency and almost a documentary feel, but it also was the first time that constant movement of the camera made me naseous. In fact the constant shaking of the camera only served to make me more aware of the camera and less in tune with the story that it was filming, which is unfortunate.

I'm not entirely sure what I expected coming into this film. When I saw dark comedy and hospital my mind immediately turned to Lars Von Trier's The Kingdom, though I guess I hoped that it would be done with a bit more heart than Von Trier shows his characters. Or maybe I was hoping for something minimalist like the films of the Dardenne brothers. Instead I wound up watching a film that was maybe 35 minutes too long, and with a directorial style that unfortunately to the focus away from what could have been a more interesting story.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

That Obscure Object of Desire

Going in a completely different direction than Sweet Land last night I threw in That Obscure Object of Desire by Luis Bunel. This was the first full length film by Bunel that I sat down to watch and actually the final film that Bunel had made. From what I had heard of Bunel I had expected this to be a lot more nonsensical than it was. It was a rather straightforward if dark and and at times insanely frustrating story.

Mathieu walks into a travel agent and and puchases a train ticket to get back to Paris from Seville. After stopping home he tells his butler to burn a bloody pillowcase and some articles of womens clothing Mathieu goes to the train. He is friendly with those in his train car and eventually goes out to smoke a ciggerrette. Then he spots a woman and talks to a worker on the train. The worker on the train returns with a bucket of water, and when the woman comes to speak to him he dumps the bucket of water on her. Why did he do that, because drenching someone is better than killing them. Those sitting near Mathieu are puzzled why he did this. He explains to them that this woman is the dregs of the earth and goes on to explain why he did this. Matheiu narrates the story on the train and we watch most of the story in flashback.

Truth told there were a few times I was tempted to turn this movie off. I thought towards the beginning it was just more European misoginy posing as art. Conchita is the object of Matheiu's desire and nearly the entirety of the movie is Matheiu's point of view of what has happened leading up to the dumping of the bucket of water. So yes, of course despite Matheiu's best intentions and attempting to care for Cinchita finacially and in in other ways Conchita will not have sex with him, and Matheiu is slowly going crazy.

Conchita here is played by two different actresses (Carole Bouquet and Angela Molina) one French and one Spanish and easily identifiable from one another. On my first viewing I am entirely unsutre why the use of two different actresses to play one woman were neccessary. The Spanish Conchita more often than not was the more sensual one, the more flirtatious one. The French Conchita was warmer, and friendlier perhaps without being sensual, but also was definitely icier than the Spanish conchita as well. I found myself through the a good portion of the movie trying to identify which one was colder, before a sudden shift happened.

I can't place my finger on exactly when, but I found myself at least as disgusted with Matheiu as I did with the women in this film. And as Matheiu is telling the story to his travelling partners on the train, they too take for granted that this woman who was drenched was the "dregs of the earth." But as the movie progresses we see mainly more than anything else Matheiu attempting to buy Conchita's affection. Money, houses, "I'll give you whatever you want he says." And while Conchita continually makes promises to give herself to him at various times throughout the movie Matheiu's sense of entitlement that he feels he has over her seems to always push Conchita away. This is not to say she is entirely innocent. By the end, Conchita and Matheiu are both dispicable characters.

Throughout the film there is also an undercurrent of violence. The emotional violence is always there, and at times this explodes to sexual violence, physical violence, muggings, and terrorist attacks. The film is uncomfortable as it is, with it's starts and stops of affection between the characters and the growing dislike that you manifests itself for each of the characters, and by the end when two absurd moments of violence happen I was confronted with how I felt about these moments if I cared how they affected each character.

On initial viewing the film last night, I really didn't like it. Reading up some essays this morning and other poiints of view and trying to understand where Bunel was coming from I found myself appreciating it more and thinking I may actually have misunderstood it and liked it. While writing this, now I find myself though unable to say I really liked the film. Yes, there is plenty to think about, and it's an exceptionally well done film. And even though at the moment I find myself to be pretty cynical of romantic relations, this was even a bit too much of that vein for my liking. Of course I know I will be discussing this film in the upcoming weeks with some others who have seen it, so perhaps my impression will change.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Sweet Land

A few weeks back I had preview passes to see Sweet Land but was unable to see it due to other obligations. I had seen the movie compared to some of Terrence Malick's earlier films and noticed that it was shot in 35mm which made me vow to catch it in the theater on the big screen while I still could.

The movie starts off with blurry images of workers and trains across the plains with the quotation written on the screen, "Let us hope, that we are all preceeded by a love story." The first ten minutes of the film are powerful as you see a son bedside watching his mother die, spliced with flashbacks, and a beautiful photo of her in her youth. We also see a real estate businessperson attempting to convince the son to sell his mothers land where she can put thousands of houses, and offers him $2.2 million. What follows is a story told almost entirely in flashback of his mothers life and the love story of her and her husband.

Inge (Elizabeth Reaser) is a German immigrant who comes to america almost as a mail order bride. Olaf's (Tim Guinee) parents (who are Norweigan?) have arranged for the marraige. When we first see her on the train she is holding an old grammaphone, which was shown at Inge's bedside as she died earlier in the film. She looks beautiful, stubborn, and entirely unsure of what she is getting into. When she finally greets the community she is about to join, she speaks very little english which provides a problem. "Only English in the Church," says the minister at the ceremony. Inge compounds this by speaking her native German. This is World War II America, this is the church going heartland, these are common farmers, but most of all these are Americans who know they are at war with Germany and are uncomfortable with a german in their mist. "She has beautiful eyes, but they are devious. That's what gives her away."

Inge and Olaf spend the entirety of the film coming into and out of the graces of the community around them and Inge attempts to fit in. The romance is a slow build between Inge and Olaf. You immediately can tell that Inge has taken more of a liking to Olaf than his friend Franzen. But Olaf doesn't want to run astray of the community and the church, in this town it seems the Church is the community. So when Inge makes a bold move to be with Olaf, and the preacher (the almost always magnificent Ned Beatty) sees them waltzing, not dancing, on the porch he decides he's seen enough that they need to be made an example of. Still, Olaf and Inge remain true to eachother and make attempts to remain true to the community.

Filming in 35mm did at times give this film the feel of one of Malick's mini epics. A few scenes especially brought Days of Heaven to mind. Though I do doubt that Malick would have spent as much time in small houses and churches as director Ari Selim did. that is not to take anything away from Selim. This is a beautifully shot and constructed film, and obviously one close to Selim's heart. Selim is the son of first generation Egyptian imigrants who came here only in 1953. And with World War II ominously looming over this film and it's German protaginist, comparisons can easily be drawn to our never ending war on terror or even war on culture. "She's in America now, you think she'd take time to learn the language," one character muttered. Still, Inge speaks as much in broken German, unsubtitled at that, as she does in English throughout the film.

Maybe thats one reason that the film just worked. Selim relied as much on imagery, facial expressions, scenery and at times silence as he did on spoken word. It didn't matter at times that we could not understand what Inge was saying and feeling. Through her performance, and the performance of the whole cast we felt what she was feeling. The script and this film could have easily been forgotten, or just tossed aside into the made for tv movie pile. But the performances and direction rose above that.

Sweetland is playing at Landmark Theaters in Castleton for at least 1 more week.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

The rise and fall and rise of Ryan Atwood

Let's take a break for a moment and move to the small screen for an appreciation/not-so-guilty pleasure of sorts. About 11 months ago, I wrote about my frustration with the OC. It was one of only a handful of shows that I set aside time to watch. There was Baseball Tonight, Scrubs (before it became terrible), Rescue Me and the OC. Last season of the OC was dreadful though. one of those that made me wonder why I even watched. 3 years back it was one of those cultural phenomenon shows. Two years back it was still very good, even if it lost some of it's audience. Last season it was terrible and lost a large portion of it's audience, and after this season it's cancelled.

I've recieved a few emails from friends ribbing me. "This must be a terrible day for you!" with a press release from Fox attached announcing the OC has only eight more shows. They have seen me defend the show to no end, including my somewhat embarssing defense of still watching it last season. But something strange happened, after the total shipwreck that was season 3, this season has been absolutely spectacular. Maybe even better than season one. Granted only a few of us are still watching. But the few that I know all had the same reservations. "Okay, I'll watch the beginning of this season, but if it's crap, I am done." A few weeks later that is followed up with, "Oh my gosh, this is fantastic."

And yes, it's soap opera. And yes, it's predominately spoliled white rich kids in lush surroundings (though this week a black character actually has a speaking part!). Check and check. Fair enough. But get beyond that and amazingly enough these spoiled kids (and adults) are handling their relationships with more maturity than say, um, the doctors on Grey's Anatomy. Let's not get it twisted, this isn't groundbreaking, earth shattering world changing televison. It's just a damn good show with a fine script, and actors with great chemistry, and great comdic timing.

It's a simple formula really and it has been followed from the first episode (for the most part). Ryan Atwood is picked up from the wrong side of the tracks, taken in by a rich family, lives in their poolhouse, attends tons of parties, gets in some trouble, but his coolness somehow rubs of on the son, which alltogether enhances the life of the family. Oh, and he gets to stick around and maybe fall in love. Simple right. A succession of really good and positive things happening for a kid who was not having any luck before. Throw in some seedy side characters, parental marital issues, typiacl sterotyped California rich people gossip weirdness, a villain here and there, a half decent soundtrack, and voila!

But in season three the succession of good things for Atwood turned to a succession of ridiculous bad things. His love interest from the first episode turned out to be a n alcoholic, self destructive freak. His best freind and I guess adopted brother blows the college admission of his dreams while smoking weed, and the father figure who was great for 2 and a half years suddenly becomes a business bottom line obsessed bufoon. No wonder viewers tuned out, who wants to see that?

I don't even know why I stuck around, to be honest but this season it's back to the absurdist formual from the first two seasons. New love interest for Ryan Atwood, and she's phenomenal. The Cohen's marraige is a rock, thus cementing Sandy in the TV Dad Hall of Fame, Seth is somehow engaged to Summer, and the self destructive alcoholic's younger sister came into the show and is a much better character than she ever was. And it's all phenomenal and a laugh a minute.

So yeah, like anyone else I like to see people end things at the top of their game. Like John Elway and Michael Jordan (the first time), we can now add another to the pantheon.

Ryan Atwood. Farewell, Kid Chino.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

A look back at 2006

Everyone else is doing lists so what the hell. A few things that I loved about 2006, and some that I didn't.

Things we liked...

1. The Paria Canyon. My goodness. I had never done anything like this before 5 days, 4 nights of backpacking in the beautiful Paria Canyon. 3 other guys. Great conversation. Great dinners, scenery that pictures don't do justice to. All in all it was just phenomenal. I hope to get back this summer.

2. The growth of the Indianapolis International Film Festival. This gets bigger and better every year and work looks like it's already begun in earnest for 2007. Even though I can't stand those Maysles brothers films I am already arranging to take off about a week round the time of the festival in 2007 and seeing as much as I can of the other films. For that matter, lets throw The Midwest Music Summit here as well. That was a whirlwind few nights and will be hard to top in 2007.

3. Finally getting a Netflix subscription. Truthfully I think that the state of video rental places can be summed up in what transpired this halloween. My roomate walked across the street, unable to find Halloween he asked at the counter if they carry it. "Not, the first one," said the clerk. Um, fair enough. Howbout, the Shining. "We have the made for tv version, but not Kubrick." Fantastic. In a city with no film revival theater, Netflix is a must. But please, let's also support the fine people at Mass Ave Video something I admittedly need to do more often.

4. The World Cup at Radio Radio. Just awesome. Magnificent. Fun as could be. Well until the actual games brought nothing but misery. Tufty and Roni were magnificent hosts, and the crowds were fantastic. Credit also to Brugge in Broad Ripple for doing their part as well.

5. Key Cinemas. That not as far out of the way as you may think little theater brought the best movie to come to American shores this year, Jean-Pierre Melville's 1969 release Army of Shadows to Indy. The theater continues to bring films that aren't even hitting our other arts theater up in Castleton since they sometimes show Davinci Code on two screens.

Other films that made 2006 happy L'Enfant, Cache A Scanner Darkly, United 93, and the unfairly maligned Marie Antoinette and The Fountain. The last two of course were overly ambitious, and flawed but fantastic films nonetheless. L'Enfant merely showed that the Dardenne brothers are the best and most consistent filmakers in the world right now. And, Cache's success has allowed Michael Haneke to apparently remake one of his earlier films, Funny Games, with new big name actors, which is puzzling.

6.Formula 1 staying in Indianapolis for at least 1 more year.

7. Finally, The Red Key Tavern and Luxor. The Red Key, just because. And Luxor, because it's some of the best food and nicest people in this city. Fantastic.

Things we didn't like in 2006.

1. Fracturing my damn knee cap in December. Just when I am getting in shape. Running longer and better than I have in years. Playing indoor soccer, weekly. Having designs on running the mini in my head, I fracture my kneecap and am on crutches for 6 weeks.

2. The World Cup as an event. Croatia and the USA go out on the same day in awful uninspiring fashion. Zidanne headbuts in the final. Italy wins the whole damn thing. Then the USA follows up their showing with a 6 month courtship of Jurgen Klinsman for coach only to fail and get Bob Bradley in instead. What the hell. For that matter, the Columbus Crew was even more disappointing than usual.

3. 38th Street construction. It's never gonna end.

4. Since the good always outweighs the bad, we will leave it at that.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

The Set-Up

For Christmas I got two dvd box sets, as I mentioned before. Warner's Film Noir Classics Collection's Volume 1 and Volume 3. Ten films between the two boxes of which I have seen only four so far. But with each film I feel like am learning something new or seeing something entirely different. In the Volume 3 box there is Nicholas Ray's film On Dangerous Ground. Robert Ryan stands out in this film, which is different from most noirs in that much of it takes place way outside the dark streets of the city. In fact at least half of the film is in snow covered rural farmland. After seeing Ryan's performance in that I definitely wanted to catch more of his films.

In the first Warner Film Noir Classics box is a great Robert Ryan film, The Set-Up. Directed by Robert Wise this film is an absolute gem. It's only 72 minutes long and flies along at that. Robert Ryan's performance is once again as good as you would hope and the boxing scenes have to be the most realistic set to film.

The story is simple 35 year old Bill "Stoker" Thompson is getting ready for a fight. His wife (the beautiful Audrey Totter) has become weary of the fight game. She is sick of seeing her husband beat up night after night and recalls an earlier fight when he didn't remember her name for two hours. But Stoker still has to fight, and he is convinced he is just one punch away from the big time. Problem is that his manager wants him to take a dive this night. He has money against Stoker and is working with Gangster Little Boy having assured his people that Stoker will lose tonight.

The 72 minutes go along in real time. You see clock at the beginning in the first shot and one at the end in the last shot that show exactly those 72 minutes have gone by. In that time you meet a myriad of characters. The woman outside who claims that she watches the fight with her eyes covered, though later you see her screaming for blood. You meet other fighters in the locker room all at different stages in the career or life, all hoping for something different out of the evening. The managers, the gangsters, and of course Stoker's wife Julie walking round teh city trying to decide whether or not she will go to the fight. Since it's a noir you could guess the ending won't be exactly a feel good ending, but it isn't entirely devistating either. Fate once again does deliver a good asskicking, but doesn't leave everybody entirely down and out.

Martin Scorcese joined Robert Wise on the commentary track for this dvd. He talks about how he screened this for his cast and crew during the filming of The Aviator and how the next morning people came up and asked him, "Do you realize thats a masterpiece?" He answered laughingly, "Yes, of course!"